Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Poised to Spring

I'm revisiting some old themes with the above picture. It's always a pleasure when the subject illuminates itself which is probably why I like photographing lamps. Or perhaps I'm just too lazy to find my own light sources.

The springs are the essence of the Anglepoise Lamp, an invention dating back to 1933. A colleague of mine once lit a newsreader with a pair of these when the studio lighting failed - the show must go on (but she didn't look too good with 200 watts worth of illumination instead of 3 kilowatts).

Well, I can't think of anything much to whinge about or praise today. I'm in a sort of opinion limbo. Plenty of things irritate me but none are worthy of my scorn. I''ll save it for something more deserving.

Actually on the praise side, at least two young women with kids in pushchairs thanked me when I held a door open for them today - what is the world coming to?

And this which intrigued me, from a woman in a teashop in Moreton-in-Marsh.

"Doughnuts I know I'm safe with - anything else I can't take a chance".

Friday, December 15, 2006

In The Balance

The city of Birmingham (the original one, not that upstart in Alabama) has more canals than Venice. It's true, would I lie? They were built to serve what had become the powerhouse of the world's industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries. If it wasn't made in Brum, it wasn't worth making. However the manufacture, commerce and industry that was supported by this network of waterways, basins and wharves has long gone, spirited away to lands of cheap labour and dubious or non-existent health and safety regulations. What is left is a place of eating, drinking, clubbing and frolicing.

And some neat lights, reflected in water caressed by a gentle breeze. These are the sort of locations I like working in on a cold night. Just add enough illumination to pick out the salient features and make sure we can see the presenters' lips move when they speak. The trick is not to overpower what nature, or the resident restauranteurs, has provided.

It's all in the balance.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Stepping Outside The Box

Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.

Cecil Beaton, 1904-1980

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Work in Progress

Today's post may well be the long overdue (or unfortunate - take your pick) renaissance of this blog - I'm not working for a few weeks, the nights are long and the days are cold. For the first time in ages, I seem to be time-rich. What better use could I find for this largesse than to get back into writing my little gobbets of nonsense?

I've just come to the end of a long stint lighting a TV programme at a studio in Kent. So I that I don’t forget who I am, here’s a picture of me at work; nothing beats narcissism if you want a good opinion of yourself, or for that matter, a poor one; I’m too exposed to iced buns and pastries in this job and the situation is not helped by Niki from the make-up department who makes sure our control room is fully furnished with these delights each morning.

They gave me a brand new lighting console to play with, apparently untried in television; unfortunately they didn’t leave a sledgehammer. I’ve never come across a piece of equipment that was so frustrating to operate. Fortunately my colleague Hugh forced it into submission through sheer will power, skill and bloody mindedness. We will not be defeated by a rude mechanical. Still it's very pretty and has an impressive number of switches, faders and chrome wheels.

The other image is of the results of my lighting design for this production. For once it looks almost the same in the studio as it did in my imagination. Oh joy of joys!

Talking of joy, Christmas is creeping up on us. I’m going to try the non-grumpy approach this year. This will be a novelty and probably nigh on impossible to achieve. Still it’s worth a try – bring on the tinsel.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Almost back with you (again)

I apologise to anyone who's been hanging on during the continuing absence of any intelligent or otherwise input to this blog. I've any number of excuses - trips abroad, trips away for work - but the truth is that I ran out of steam.


I've taken a lot more pictures and I'm building up a backlog of subjects that I feel need airing.

I've put some kindling in the boiler, topped it with some good Welsh steam coal and added a light covering of nutty slack. The blower is on the fire is starting to draw. With luck the safety valves should lift sometime next week and we'll be under way.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cold Light/Warm Light

Since I've been essentially absent for a couple of months I have no remorse about featuring a group of three in today's picture. Neither do I have any feelings of contrition regarding another window with leaves outside. So there.

This image comes from Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island. In one of the pews George Washington once sat. I imagine this is the equivalent in the US of the countless beds in which Queen Elizabeth slept or oak trees that King Charles II hid in. It's a beautiful church, as pleasing to visit as any in the UK and as full of history.

Pixie's just told me I have my blog face on. Apparently she can see the cogs whirring even though I'm trying to look interested in what she's telling me. Just more evidence that men can't multi-task.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


There are few things things stranger than drifting across the water in thick fog. If ever you've craved a 'sense of detachment' this is one method I would recommend. Outside the ship - nothing. Not the misty shape of a tree or a shadowy building. 100% nothing.

Well, that's not strictly true.

Visually, sure. You're surrounded by a feast of cotton wool.

Aurally, however, the world has come into its own. Every time the foghorn sounds, the surroundings are revealed in a multitude of echoes - short term returns from the invisible cliffs alongside, long term from the mountains up ahead. In between the booming broadcasts, the plaintive tones of bells, rocking inside the buoys marking the channel, activated by the swell and the wake of the passing ship.

Boom. Ding. Dong. Boom.

900 feet of ship and 3000 souls inch their way towards an unseen anchorage.

You just have to hope nobody pulls the plug on the radar.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Library Staircase

The following is a wide-sweeping generalisation.

Modern public buildings are listless, limp, insipid shadows of their counterparts built in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are exceptions (try hard, you’ll think of somewhere) but they probably won’t overwhelm you with their majesty and richness.

Today’s picture was taken inside a building that we stumbled upon while looking for a flashy department store in Boston (part of the eternal quest for the perfect handbag – not for me, you understand, I’d be forever leaving it somewhere). We never found the store but we did find a library and some dramatic lighting.

Staircases come very high on my list of photogenic images. As a lighting designer I can never resist the temptation to shine a lamp down one, picking out the treads and leaving shadowy risers and a rim-lit villain, wreathed in smoke, collar up, photons glinting off the metallic blue barrel of his (or her) gun. Maybe add a child in a pram, bumping out of control down to oblivion – no, sorry, that would be going too far.

We only spent a little time here, just enough to admire some murals by John Singer Sargent (who incidentally spent some time painting in my home village of Fladbury in the late 1800s), the statues and the marbled walls. Now just imagine what it would look like in cost-cutting oak veneer, plastic and concrete.

With a glass-fibre lion.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

First Kiss of the Sun

Cadillac Mountain in Maine is not the most easterly point of the USA but, because of its height, it's the first place to feel the kiss of the sun's rays in the morning. Apparently people hike up there before sunrise just so as to experience this momentous happening; it is frequently shrouded in mist so disappointment must be rife.

A road leads to the top and the inevitable gift shop and restaurant. Even on the late autumn day that we visited it was crowded with cars, motorbikes and buses. Having not been there for the break of dawn I can't say if it's any better then. Nevertheless the 'let's destroy the atmosphere of a place by making it too accessible' approach to life is a worldwide phenomenon and Cadillac Mountain was no better nor worse than any other.

The presence of two cruise ships in the harbour would not have helped. At some places during our trip there were four ships at a time moored in these out-of-the-way places. Quite an influx for the locals to take their cut from.

Incidentally we booked what few tours we took with the locals rather than giving the cruise line their extortionate cut. They never miss an opportunity to try and extract money from you and it would be fair to say that life on-board is akin to living in an extremely comfortable and spacious begging bowl.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Quickie

I'm not one of life's early risers but, on board ship, the pattern changes. I'm fired by an overwhelming urge to see the dawn each day, something that would be unheard of at home.

No doubt the crew swabbing the decks each morning got used to seeing an unshaven loonie lurking fore and aft, camera at the ready, searching for any quirky effect of the rising sun.

Incidentally I'm still all at sea, metaphorically speaking. Normal blogging in abeyance.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Cruising, on ships, not in cars, is an interesting pastime. You fall asleep in one part of the world and, hopefully with only a gentle rocking motion in between, you awake the next morning in another. On the way you are fed and watered in a fairly grand style and sleep in a real bed, not a bunk or a reclining chair.

Pixie and I have recently completed our second outing on the briny; the first, some years ago, was from Vancouver to Alaska and back. This time, so that the eastern seaboard of North America did not feel neglected, we travelled from Quebec to New York.

Thankfully this sort of itinerary does not attract the young trendsetters or the multi-child family. It would be fair to say that Pixie and I were firmly entrenched in the lowest five per cent of the age range aboard (crew excepted). The ship was festooned with those for whom the concept of ‘spending the kids’ inheritance’ is a way of life. The folks on board had been everywhere, often very slowly. At times this could be a little trying; some of the corridors below deck were a bit narrow and being at the back of a ‘Procession of the Oldies’ could be frustrating. Still it come to us all if we live out our allotted span; my knees are already developing their own protest movement, egged on by support, or lack of it, from my left ankle.

I’m not going to wear you down with a blow-by-blow account of the voyage. The colours in Quebec were on the change and looked magnificent, even in the full dull that was a common fixture of the earlier part of the trip. Sydney, Nova Scotia, was a gem, Halifax, interesting but it’s a city, Saint John, New Brunswick, wet but captivating - leaning over the side of the ship listening to a lone piper bid us farewell in a steady downpour will be a lasting memory for us both.

We thrust our way south into the USA, landing at Bar Harbor, Maine (sunny and a good walk), Boston (another city, enough said) and Newport, Rhode Island – also sunny and an excellent exposition of what can be achieved by obscene wealth.

New York, past the Statue of Liberty lit up against the night sky, or what passes for it in these parts was followed by an impressive view of Manhattan and an unimpressive view of city traffic. We walked a few of NY’s famous streets, looked at a lot of handbags and headed for the airport. Another city crossed off the list – now show me some more villages.

(I apologise for not replying to comments at the moment but I’m using a very expensive internet connection so I need to keep it short)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Almost Back

Pixie and I have just returned from taking part in an international queueing (or standing-in-line) contest; Gatwick Airport was the clear winner although Pier 19, New York, made a brave bid for the crown at the end.

In the next few days I hope to catch up with all the blogs I've missed reading over the past few weeks and edit any links (Kilroy 60, for one) that need updating. Service may soon return to normal.

To be going on with, have a lighthouse at sunrise.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Not Gone Yet

Another mission in life - inventing spurious psychological disorders. This one is WUSS (Waking Up Song Syndrome). A couple of days ago I woke up with the words and music of 'Delaney's Donkey' running through my brain, a song made popular by my Mum's favourite, Val Doonican. I couldn’t shake it off, despite the fact that it has a very high loathsome quotient, up there with the 'Birdy Song' and anything by Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley.

By mid morning I'd lost it, thanks to extreme immersion in alternative activities. Then today, it happened again. This time it was 'Chattanooga Choo Choo'; in fact it still is. It's just run through between my ears, three minutes down but pulling hard, a trail of dense, acrid smoke and a whiff of engine oil. Luckily I like Glen Miller otherwise I'd be in deep trouble.

What if I wake up tomorrow with an attack of 'Heartbreak Hotel'?

OK, gone now.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Glowing Lamp & Two Elizabethans

I became a touch bored while working the other day so I decided to take some close-up photographs of light bulbs, as you do. For a while it was quite rewarding. Fade up a little, click, fade down a little, click, the afternoon drifted by. But then it began to pall. There's only so much fun you can have with a lamp.

Peter and I had a BAO today - that's a boy's day out without the morning. We went over to the tithe barn I featured the other day and then into the nearby church. There's a seventeenth-century memorial there that I've tried photographing before but with limited success. Today, with Peter showing me some clever tricks with a remote flash, the results were more like what I'm looking for.

You may think it's a strange subject, two effigies of long-dead Elizabethans, but I find these images fascinating. The hands, in particular, draw me. Given the choice between an afternoon photographing ancient tombs and one photographing people, there would be no contest - sorry, people.

Disappearing again for a couple of weeks. See you in October, if you're still hanging in there

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Storage for Tenths

Thought I'd prove that I'm still here although very quiet on the creative front and very busy on the life-in-general side. I'm expecting normal service to be resumed at the beginning of November, maybe sooner if the work/play load moderates a little.

A few weeks ago I visited the tithe barn at Leigh in Worcestershire. It is the longest in Britain and the largest built with cruck beams. The image above is of one of the two wagon entrances. It was constructed in the fourteenth century so it's a touch on the old side.

Its purpose was to store the tenth of the crop that was assigned to the church; this could form the major part of the priest's income or be taken by a secular authority, such as a college or member of the gentry, who then paid, often poorly, for a curate to manage the spiritual affairs of the parish. Whichever method was used, those who actually had to toil to fill this barn were not the beneficiaries, accept in a vague, 'you'll get yours in the next life' sort of way.

Being in Worcestershire, apples played a big part in the local economy and its by-product, cider, a big part in the life of the labourers. Athough drinking from a tankard was encouraged, just lying on your back under the tap was also a recognised method of attaining the required state of inebriation and brain cell zapping.

I waited a long time for the sun to come round to the orthogonal position. It was pleasant, the faint smell of farmyard wafting in the breeze and the distant sound of life in the modern world muted by centuries old oak. A pint of cider would have wiled away the minutes as would a Cornish pasty or a copy of the Times. I had none of these so I just sat and mused, or, for much of the time, just sat.

See you soon - be good.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Snail's Pace

Twee? Or not twee? That is the question.

I've just popped up today to say hello.


Done that.

Having a rest from blogs. Need fresh inspiration on all fronts.

Back later.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Intrepid Explorer

There aren't a lot of wild animals around these parts. Sure, you might get a nip from a bothered badger if you happened across one but they're mainly nocturnal and we don't go out walking at night much. Still you can't be too careful and that's why Pixie is sporting the full protective gear - long sleeved top, hat, stick and boots - for a walk up to the top of Fladbury Hill.

Yes, I know teasels are vicious, like hundreds of hedgehogs on sticks, so I agree, better safe than sorry. And the boots - never know when an earwig might slip into your footwear. Bare legs - not on your nelly!

Incidentally: - number of species of poisonous spiders in the UK - nil; number of species of poisonous snakes - 1 (very timid, generally not lethal but you wouldn't enjoy the experience). Still there's always a first time.

The white headgear sported by my beloved is a Tilley Hat. These are very comfortable and fold up into almost nothing. The company claim that their hats could pass through an elephant and still be wearable. That prompts a number of questions:

1. Why would you feed your hat to an elephant?
2. Why would you want to
wear a hat that smelt of an elephant's bum?
3. Where can I find an
elephant in the Vale of Evesham so that I can experiment with Pixie's hat?

The Tilley Hat is Canadian and is actually a damn fine product if you like hats (which I don't - loathsome objects that make your head hot and stop your hair wafting freely in the breeze). We bought a couple of them in British Columbia and, surprise, surprise; they were half the price they are in England. So what, I hear you say, they on home ground, stands to reason.

No it doesn't.

A piece of Nikon camera equipment in the USA might cost $100; in the UK the same equipment would cost me £100. I know we got very close to parity with the dollar in the early 1980s but now it's closer to $2 to £1. Someone somewhere is getting ripped off and I've an idea it's me. This pricing policy is the same across a wide range of goods.

No doubt someone will point out to me differences in standards of living, wages and other excuses but it doesn't wash. When it comes to pricing consumer goods in the UK, someone is having a laugh.

And it isn't me

(Two blogrants on the trot - shall I go for another tomorrow or will it be Tweeville again? Watch this space.)

(No, not literally. You don't have to sit there glued to the screen. Go and do something creative. Then come back and see if it's changed, or not. Tomorrow, maybe. Or after the weekend. Your choice.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Broad Sweep

It's a while since I posted a wide image, a broad sweep of landscape. I felt the urge this evening. I feel I'm suffering from a surfeit of detail.

I avoid committees. I think it would be fair to say that nothing useful is ever achieved when a group of people get together to decide something. Every member has a point of view, an axe to grind, a corner to defend, self-interest to satisfy. Compromise is inevitable and the outcome always something less than it might have been. In my (not very humble) opinion, decision making should be a solitary activity - one person's vision. By all means consult - no-one knows everything. But do it one-to-one - question, discuss, listen - then decide - alone.

Now this isn't advice from some lifestyle guru I've been reading; I don't go for that sort of egotistical word vomit. This outpouring was triggered by my attendance at a meeting where everything was discussed in minute detail, every nit picked. There was no grand vision, no golden path, and no march towards the sunny uplands.

And tea. No committee can meet without tea.

So it was not all bad.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Pair of Poppies

Yesterday Susan accused me of veering of into 'Tweeland' again so I thought, why not, go for it.

This year has been my 'Year of the Poppy'. I went to France in May just as they were coming into season and took countless photographs of them in swathes, groups, threes, twos and singles. If anything should have cured my 'Splash of Red' obsession it was that. But it didn't.

This pair were photographed 'contre-jour' a few weeks later as Peter and I were walking down to his local, the Swan at Birlingham. I tried to resist but it was to no avail. It was the light, the light, I must stay away from the light!

The world does not need any more poppy images. Enough is enough!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Teapots & Thatch

The British are well known for their love of tea – it’s one of the things that keep us toddling along our merry course through life.

To get the full, unrestrained flavour of this restorative substance, it should be brewed from leaves that are unfettered by the confines of a perforated bag, and in a teapot, not directly in the cup.

The picture above is a little deceiving as, despite the eccentricity for which our island race is renowned, it is not normal practice to keep the teapot on a shelf outdoors, nor is it necessary to possess more than one of them (unless, of course, you keep one for best).

Tea can be served at any time of day and many people cannot start their quotidian routines without a cup; personally I prefer coffee with breakfast as I feel that it is more efficient in burning a path through the detritus of the night.

Obviously tea is forever associated with tea-time when the British drink copious quantities of the brew, accompanied by scones, jam and clotted cream or toasted tea-cakes; posh people may have cucumber sandwiches. Very posh people may shoot something to put on toast or send out to Harrods or Fortnum & Mason's for a suitable relish.

Tea also goes well with the sort of food eaten by the rude mechanicals, like sausage, egg and chips; here it is usually served in large vessels called mugs and imbued with copious quantities of sugar. There are few taste sensations more meritorious than a bacon sarnie and a mug of sweet builder's tea.

It is possible to find tea while out walking the hills around the area where I live - here the passer-by on a long-distance footpath is directed towards a farmhouse serving the amber nectar and other, inferior beverages.

I quite fancy a brew now myself but as it's after midnight, I can't risk the nocturnal side effects - which is a shame.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Time Rusts On

Somewhere deep in rural France, this clock looks down upon the decaying, crumbling platform of a country station. It stopped at 11.40. Was that morning or evening?

Did anyone notice when it uttered its terminal tick, marked its final passage of a moment of time? Had the last train departed, the platform swept bare of the gossiping locals off to market, the chickens cooped up in their crates, the silvery churns brimming with rich, full-fat milk?

Nature is at work now, claiming back its own. The clock faces west, towards the setting sun. It has seen many flaming skys, its mechanism warmed by the dying embers of a summer's day. And many cloud-enshrouded horizons, storms sweeping in from the Atlantic, winds lashing its forlorn countenance, drenching, freezing, rotting.

Forty years ago, give or take, it stopped. Since then it has slumbered, screwed resolutely to the cement-rendered wall. A wasting disease is creeping across the dial; its numerals have been shed - were they Romanesque or something more prosaic? Eventually holes will appear, a latticework pattern of rust eating away at its underlying structure, bit by bit, until the clock crumbles away to red dust.

Then all that will remain will be a circular, streaky stain and, perhaps, that pair of grey pointers, fashioned from sterner, more resistant material, markers of a past function, the hands of time.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

White Van

I try to complete all journeys of up to ten miles by bicycle, whatever the time of year. It's the only way I can convince my body and my mind that I really need to eat so much food. Obviously if I've got to collect something a bit unwieldy, like a grand piano or a barrel of beer, I use alternative transport.

I cycled extensively in my thirties but lost the will when I had to spend the best part of a winter in London - I was beset by traffic, snow and excess chocolate. I came home several stone heavier and a lot less enthusiastic about pounding the pedals.

I took it back up in my early fifties, in the hopes of staving off the inevitable decline into decrepitude. It's been reasonably successful although I'm out of the saddle at the moment with a defunct left knee. It's frustrating to be car-bound, as well as expensive.

The photograph is one I took last winter as I cycled into Pershore and narrowly avoided the back end of this white van. It's part of the 'Splash of Red' series which I might have contributed to if I'd not braked in time.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

First Sitting

I've never had the luxury of eating in a dining car. Even during a period when my employer allowed me to travel first-class, I could never bring myself to indulge in such extravagance - I just settled for a pork pie, some crisps and a cheese baguette, washed down with a bottle of Coke. (That was in the days when I still bought products made by the Coca-Cola Company - I have since boycotted them as I do all companies whose policy is to achieve world domination in their field and who engage in the exploitation of the weak).

The idea of on-train dining is part and parcel of the romance of railways, along with sleeper cars, something else I've not tried. In part this is because they too are fiendishly expensive and also the fact that British carriages are of very restricted width. This means that I would need to knock a hole either through into the corridor or into the outside world in order to accommodate my long legs. My feet would be exposed, tickled all night by passing ladies in feather boas, bent on trysts with travelling salesmen in second class, or turned to blocks of ice in the great outdoors.

I hope that one day I will experience the pleasure of lying in a bunk listening to the clackety-clack of the rail joints and the mournful echo of the horn, and realise the pleasure of watching the world unfold through a dust-smeared window. There are two railway journeys in particular I'd like to make - The ‘Canadian’ from Toronto to Vancouver and the ‘Indian Pacific’ from Perth to Sydney. Both pass through great tracts of sameness. What could be better than that for cogitative pursuits?

Who knows? It may happen, given a following wind and a fast get-away car.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Vestiges of Power

Swan's feather floating in the sun? Pretty high score on the old Twee-O-Meter yesterday.

So something a bit more macho today.

It may come as a surprise to many of you that Great Britain still has a navy. Admittedly it's now't but a mouse compared to the behemoth it once was. But it still exists, ever ready to provide humanitarian aid to people in distress, to police the seas against rapacious over-fishing, or thwart the efforts of the scum who profit in human misery through running drugs. Of course it does these things only as long as they're in the interest of the government of the day. Give us a change of the party in power and the navy could be knitting baby bonnets, painting their ships pink or organising exciting raids on small defenceless colonies of penquins.

This is HMS Somerset. She is moored, lights ablaze, on the River Dart at Kingswear; obviously no-one has found out where the off-switch is yet. Still it makes for a bold reflection.

Light pollution is a serious problem in the modern world. There are people living in towns and cities who probably only see stars when they bang their heads on a door lintel or the power fails. Even out in the country, the rampage of poorly controlled security lighting through every village ruins the night sky - a romantic stroll in the garden with your loved one and a glass of Sauvignan Blanc takes place under more illumination than the Strip at Las Vegas. Major motion pictures have been shot under less lighting than there is in some back yards.

It's all to no avail anyway; it just lets intruders see where they're going and stops them making a noise tripping over the cat or the dustbin (trashcan to speakers of other forms of English).

So bring back the darkness - let the night run free.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Feeling Feathery

Some days my writing muse, a small unnamed entity, stays in its box, fingers in ears, eyes closed, fiercely mouthing the opposite of sweet nothings at me; it doesn't want to come out to play.

Today is one of those days.

So instead of some waffle, here's an image of a swan's feather, floating serenely in a sunbeam.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Five Sets of Panes

Windows are such irresistable subjects and so I make no apology for featuring them two days running. Yesterday the window gave us no inkling of what went on inside, the heavy drapes creating an exclusion zone with only the merest hint of the life within.

Today, looking from the inside of a space, we have some idea of a world beyond. We can see that it is green, bedecked in foliage and gloriously sunny - some of that glory has penetrated within through the five stone-mullioned windows. We could be in a church, a school, a university, a country house; the windows are of an ancient design, universal to the architecture of their period.

I love the way the lead framing and the glass mediates what we see beyond - we're not getting the whole picture, there's still a little leeway left for the imagination.

We may not notice the sombre effect of a passing cloud, the darker vision beyond, the gloomier aspect within. What is certain is that, when the sun reasserts itself, the benevolent burst of golden light through those panes of glass will be as if the world has suddenly smiled.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Return of the Splash

The splash of red has taken a bit of a back seat recently but now it's back.

This Georgian window fronts the White Lion in Upton-On-Severn, an inn dating back to 1510. I've never been inside so I can't comment on the ambience, the breakfast, whether they serve real ale or if the beds are comfortable and the hot water hot. Others will know and they may tell.

Nevertheless, it's painted a pleasant shade of yellow and someone on the first floor likes to keep their small change in a miniature Royal Mail postbox.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Anchors Aweigh

Yesterday I dipped my toe into the techniques of film and television production by waffling on about how we could tell dawn from dusk in visual terms, the answer being 'it's all in the words, lovey' or, as Peter pointed out, in the sound effects. This leads us untidily onto lens filters.

Pixie does not like being photographed (and neither do I) but I was quite keen to get a shot of the two of us together during our recent visit to St Tropez. The straight on 'would you mind taking a photo of the two of us' photograph taken by a Dutch, Japanese or German tourist was not on the cards so I needed a device to lower the whinge factor from her ladyship to a level where image making became a possibility. Incidentally I should point out that I think she looks lovely as she is but I'm obviously not using the same grade of mirror in the bathroom - mine must be on the Snow White setting while hers is set to Wicked Witch.

There are a number of techniques I could have used in order to soften off any images I made of my little soul mate but none of them were readily available. The Hollywood methods involved things like smearing Vaseline on the lens or using white nets. On this particular day I was a bit short of anything smeary although I suppose I could have nipped into an epicerie and picked up some butter or a tub of fois gras. Similarly although St Tropez is an active port, the nets available were a bit on the large size, very damp and smelt of fish.

So I was forced to compromise. The anchor channel on this rich man's toy had a lovely reflective surface. It was uneven enough to provide a perfect distorting filter, removing any signs of blemishes, zits and spots from my beloved's visage and preserving her film star qualities.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Time of the Day

This picture was taken earlier in the year on a misty March evening. It could equally well have been a misty March morning. Visually, what's the difference? If you were woken up from a deep sleep lying in this field, dressed in only your pyjamas or a nightie, how could you tell, within a few seconds, if it's 06:00 or 18:00 (and no cheating by waiting to see if the sun's moving up or down)?

The birds will be singing at either time (bless them) so what other pointers could there be? Some of my thoughts (and you're welcome to them):

It will probably be colder and damper in the morning.

If you're by the sea you might be able to tell by whether the wind is blowing on or off the land (no good in a storm).

If you have a hangover it's probably AM rather than PM but this isn't a reliable indicator (similar scenario if there's a strange woman/man by your side).

Are you carrying a compass? If you forgot to take your watch off before falling into this deep slumber and it's an analogue one, you're laughing. You'll need to be able to see the sun and remember which hand to point where.

Do you feel an overwhelming urge for a bowl of cereal followed by two fried eggs, bacon, mushrooms, sausages, hash browns and thick granary toast? Or a curry?

I was asked this question once at an interview for a TV lighting job. The answer they were looking for was 'It will be in the script'. Yes, folks, we lighting chaps don't have to worry ourselves about this intractable problem because one of the characters is going to poke his head round a door and say:

'Morning, George, who's the bird in the pyjamas? Boy, you look rough! Fancy some breakfast?'

Scriptwriting? It's a doddle.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Tritone Apples

Now before you all start shouting at me for going back on my word, this isn't monochrome, it's something that my picture editor calls a Tritone; it's an amalgam of bottomless pit, russet and sunshine-yellow (the colours had some boring offical names in Paintshop but mine sound prettier).

Also, although there is a third apple hidden away at the top, it is not a three; it's a two with a shy friend.

The image shows some of the ripening fruit on the old apple tree at the bottom of our garden. It seems to be going well this year; some years there is almost nothing. There are three (that word again!) varieties grafted onto a single rootstock. I've no idea what the names of the apples are but they seem to be cookers - they make a damn good crumble. Since we don't spray them, they usually come with a non-vegetarian component.

These apples, and a few barely ripe grapes, are the only edible output from our garden (the lettuce have died and the herbs are squeaking in droughty anquish). We used to grow a few vegetables but they fell by the wayside as they were too much like young children or aging prima-donnas, always demanding attention. Yes, I know there's nothing as good as home-grown broad beans or new potatoes but cultivating the things fall into the 'life's too short to peel a grape' category.

Give me swathes of perennial shrubs, covering every inch of ground and fighting tooth-and-nail for space. Or a few tons of gravel.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Exe Marks The Spot

Like a dog worrying a bone, I feel a fervid desire to draw together the themes of the last week. They need to be nailed down and put to rest in the hope of fresh inspiration. So I shall cast off threes, estuaries, monochrome and mud. For how long? Who knows.

So one last gasp; two men, three boats, mud, the Exe Estuary, in glorious, sun-kissed monochrome.

I thank you.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Three in the Mud

I'm on a run of threes at the moment although this might also, like yesterday's car detail, be a four; ambiguity is king.

This image again features the shoreline of the Severn Estuary. It's composed of what I call 'boot-sucking' mud and when you have size 12 (UK sizing) feet like mine, there's a lot for the primeval ooze to work on. I prefer not to give it a chance but a baking hot summer has dried up areas which would not normally support the larger XXL man. They are so tempting to walk on because, as always, the best angle for any given shot is a yard further out than it's safe to venture.

It will always be thus; lean over the parapet a touch more, stand a bit closer to the passing train, hang on to that rusting bar, brace yourself against the crumbling masonry; so many helpful ways of getting to the right position for the perfect picture.

As it happens, I was with Peter who's considerably lighter and thus ideal for testing dodgy ground.

And if anything amiss had transpired, I'd have rescued him, using a long stick or some handy rope - after I'd taken the pictures.

Half An Ark's Worth

Childrens' toys or pointers to a Biblical fairy tale? If it's the latter then there's either been a high divorce rate or someone's been eating the stock. Whichever it is, they add a little light relief to a rather forlorn Victorian church.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Three Splashes

Fortunately for the world at large, Peter and I do not see the same images; we have differing vision. Peter sees a lot of things I miss and he doesn't miss a lot of the things I see. We just photograph them differently.

One thing that I need to work on is attention to detail; I think this is my friend's forte. At heart I'm a landscape photographer, something that became ingrained from an early age. I even bought my ridiculously expensive 80mm - 400mm lens so that I could take compressed landscapes, like the image of the Severn Bridges I posted yesterday.

As a result of this obsession I have taken some stupendously boring pictures. It's all down to a passion for using a camera and doing so even when the light's not right, or the subject sucks. Last year I culled thousands of slides dating back to the 1960s - they were nearly all landscapes and a showing of them to unsuspecting passers-by would have resulted in the Samaritans being overwhelmed.

Recently I've tried to be more disciplined even though, with a digital camera, I don't need to worry about the expensive disappointment that accompanied my forays with film. But I still shoot tedium. I did so when Peter and I were out the other day. I’ve deleted them now but they were there – flat lighting, pictures with trains in them, ducks, I really must keep slapping my wrists.

So what is the point of this ramble? What, indeed. It's just an mild meander through the backwaters of my brain in an effort to explain why I've decided to show a detail image today for a change - it's also because Peter's slipped a couple of wide shots in recently and I'm warning him off.

So I’m posting a picture containing examples of two of my relentlessly, obsessively cultivated themes - a group of three, and a splash (or four) of red.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Severn Bridge (x2)

There are two road bridges connecting England to Wales across the Severn Estuary, one opened in 1966 and the other in 1996. There is also a rail tunnel and, until 1960, there was a rail bridge; this was lost after a pair of tankers collided with it in fog. The remains of one of the ships can be seen in the middle distance.

The estuary has the second highest tidal range in the world, beaten (just) by the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. Maximum rise and fall here is 15 metres or roughly 50 feet. Only a few hardy locals venture out onto the mud flats and sandbanks at low tide, fishing for eels and salmon. Foolhardy visitors get drowned as do yachtsmen with out-of-date charts - the channels shift to suit their own designs, not those of men.

Anyway, enough of the facts. It can be a haunting place, a haven for waders, ducks, swans and geese. In full flood, it has all the deep foreboding that a swirling mass of water can conjure up. Even when the river is at rest, at the turn of the tide, I can sense a frisson of lurking menace, the merest hint of treachery to come.

The Roman's gave the Severn a woman's name – Sabrina - and made her a goddess; I'm sure that's of no significance whatsoever and she’s really a kindly soul whose only wish is to carry her cargoes with decorum and restraint.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Feeling Monochrome

Some days I feel just a little bit monochrome. I don't know why that is: perhaps it's the weather; it's been infernally hot again. Draining.

I often turn my colour images to mono to see what surprises lie within the subtle gradation of tones. When I started my broadcasting career, I worked in black & white; in film, studio and outside broadcasts. Colour came as a delicious surprise and three times more effort - instead of lining up one camera tube's output, we had to fettle three into life; red, green and blue (some less fortunate colleagues in other regions had four-tube cameras; oh, how we laughed!).

Peter and I both spotted this image as we walked along the Sharpness Canal in Gloucestershire. As I took the picture I remarked that it reminded me of a Constable (the artist, not a policeman). Viewing it later on a large screen I was less convinced but, as it was shot contre-jour, it already had a strong monochrome feel. I just let my fingers plot their course around the myriad options of Photoshop.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Field of Gold

I was sitting at the computer this evening listening to Eva Cassidy's version of 'Fields of Gold', one of the most beautiful performances ever of any song. It's the opening track of her 'Songbird' album and normally I switch off after hearing it for fear of catching depression. I wasn't quite quick enough this evening and had to endure some of her more sombre renditions before racing back from cooking the bacon. The happy-clappy religious tracks have the same effect. But she had the most brilliant voice.

Anyway inspired by her vocal image I set off through my back catalogue of pictures to see what would compliment the music.

I found this view of Bredon Hill, looking south from Fladbury. It was taken a few weeks ago about 100 yards from where I live. When we moved here this field was engineered for hop-growing but doubtless the market has collapsed due to foreign competition. That or the farmer has cottoned on to a better subsidy from the EU - the whole agricultural culture relies on some sort of handout or another. If there was a subsidy for rearing earwigs (and there may be, for all I know), someone would be out there grubbing up hedgerows and destroying nesting sites in order to farm the little beasts in sterile conditions.

Anyway this isn't the field of barley required by the song but it's some sort of cereal so it will have to do. Doubtless when I took the photograph I was attracted by the tracks - I'm a bit of a sucker for tracks.

The west end of Bredon Hill, the flat bit on top, is surrounded by the ramparts of an Iron Age hill fort, occupied about 2,500 years ago. It's a good place to visit if you're energetic as the views are stunning, by Worcestershire standards, and there are NO cars - it is only accessible by foot, mountain bike, horse, camel, mule, ass, pony, earwig, etc.

There is no time of year when a trip up this hill is not rewarding. Or any hill, for that matter. Get out there now, folks, and climb (don't bother if you're in Chicago).

You know it makes sense - unlike this blog.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


You can see what you want to see in this image. Wispy spirit? Or just some distorted windows?

Sparkly's Sponge

Tiny, invisible threads are holding down this sponge. Without them, it would fly.


Thank you, Sparkly.

There is nothing better in this world than real, preservative-free, home-baked cake.

And I should know - I'm a self-appointed Global Cake Taster.

(You've got some serious competition here, Dad.)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Red Triangle

Cars are utilitarian objects - they're no more special than your washing machine or your toothbrush. I find it very strange that people lavish such attention on them, spending a fortune on personalised number plates, changing their vehicle when a newer model appears and washing them on a regular basis - I washed mine last year; It still works.

So what's with the car fetish? All you need the things to do is get you where you want to be at a speed that matches your needs, in a level of comfort that suits your body and with a reliability that cossets your nervous system. All else is vanity, pure vanity.

My CR/V does that. OK, I changed it last year because I wanted a diesel but I'll not be changing it again in a hurry. It has the number plates it was issued with (though I did avoid buying one with a Birmingham registration - there are some things that are beyond the pale). It's high off the road because my knees have gone and it's easier to get in and out of. I don't wash it because that doesn't make it go faster, use less fuel or make it look prettier; who wants a pretty car? I'm not worried about residual value because I've driven every car I've owned until it's dropped - I wouldn't sell one of my cars to a friend or a nearby enemy who could come and find me.

I admit I'm not whiter than white; I won't drive just anything. I wouldn't buy a Ford because I'm a snob, anything French because they're just too French, anything Italian because the one I owned fell apart, a BMW because it's not VFM (Value For Money), a Rover (no excuse needed) or anything built by slaves in the Far East. That still leaves a lot to choose from.

Now, what was the point of all this rabbiting on?

Ah, yes, the badge of an old Alvis. It's very nice but it's a car. A tin of beans would be just as exciting.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Through a Georgian Window (or Two)

St Mary Magdalene Church in the pretty Shropshire town of Bridgnorth was designed by Thomas Telford, a man more famous for constructing roads, bridges and canals than places of worship. It was opened in 1796.

Its interior is lit by magnicent clear glass windows in a classical Georgian style. Light floods in, creating an airy, live space, so different to the Romanesque gloom of the churches of southern France and Italy. I imagine this difference has as much to do with heat as illumination. I can rarely achieve an accepable natural-light image in the sepulchral interiors of Provence or Tuscany but at least I fail in my quest while staying cool.