Wednesday, May 31, 2006

What Light Through Yonder Window Falls?

We were on our way home from Provence, driving along deserted minor roads through the gentle hills north of Dijon, when the urge to photograph something railway came upon me. As luck would have it, thwarting was not on the menu that evening and I was able to stop and prance around this derelict station for a few minutes.

The gare at Pavillon Les Grancey last echoed to the sound of passengers in 1969 and I would imagine that, by then, as the motor car swept all before it, there were precious few of them. Just a soupcon of bonjours, au revoirs and je vous remercie's to sweeten a placid day.

It was the lighting within the booking hall that attracted me, along with the old posters and the pastel green colour scheme.

When I started to light drama productions, I was keen to avoid the stereotyped 'sun through window' scenario. You see it all the time, in film and on television. However it's an easy option if you want to add a bit of structure and definition to a flat surface. It can also take your eye away from the dodgy set decoration and construction. Unfortunately, as we all know, the sun doesn't shine all the time, nor is it always conveniently placed so as to cast a shadow on an upstage wall.

Sometimes lighting designers and cameramen are so keen on this device that they arrange for the sun to come from several directions at once - I saw a film once where a man walked through the front door of a house with the sun streaming in behind him (very dramatic, very Ridley Scott) and walked out the back door with the sun hitting him in the face (very naff, very Neighbours).

I can't say I've avoided the trap over the years but I do try - honest.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Taking Steps

I dropped in on the Cannes Film Festival last week - I wasn't invited so they weren't expecting me - c'est la vie!

I didn't realise that there was a Step Ladder Convention running as well; if only I'd known, I could have taken one.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Today's image is a tribute to that saviour of the hot sand walker and promoter of inappropriate footwear, Monsieur Phillippe Filop.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Called to the Bar

Last year I spent a pleasant hour or two sat at the back of a busy bar in Byron Bay, New South Wales. I had a pint of something acceptable and almost like beer, fresh fish, well-battered was to hand, the company was good. Then, with all the energy of the Pacific Ocean behind it, a nascent deluge plummeted earthwards.

It was very noisy - Australians have a love affair with corrugated iron and the building was bejewelled with the stuff. I went deaf - in these circumstances all conversation passes me by; I suffer from the inverse cocktail party effect. Instead of hearing one voice in a melange of many, I hear none, not even those close to me. I've always been blessed with this affliction.

I usually read a paper in these circumstances, or a good book. It makes me appear anti-social but since that's fairly accurate, it's no problem. On this occasion I had nothing to read but I did have my camera and a long lens. Thus armed, I sat at the back of the bar and captured images of bottles.

What better way is there to spend some ruptured time?

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Splash with Red

The south-east of England is in the grip of a drought at the moment with bans on the use of hosepipes and sprinklers. Lawns will die.

I've no doubt the sight of this hydrant spurting away in Lancaster Gate, West London, this morning, caused some angst. I've no idea what they were up to - probably flushing out a contaminated main although the more paranoid amongst the population might think it was some form of water torture; this vital liquid running free while begonias wilt, bluebells tremble and the Chelsea Flower Show is abandoned in favour of floral origami.

On the subject of water, what's dowsing all about, then? Like many people, I can do it. I use old iron rods and, to be honest, I'm very skilled at finding drains and suchlike. Yet I've seen the research; there is no rational or scientific evidence in its favour. Unfortunately, since I still have most of my faculties, I cannot believe it’s down to leylines, earth spirits or the subterranean march of fairies moving back and forth with cast-off milk teeth.

It's a mystery.

Probably all in my mind.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


In my continuing efforts to introduce the world to the delights of English pub food, I present:

Steak & Kidney Suet Pudding

Now I know what you're thinking; that doesn't look very appetising. Where's the veg? Why are there so many sautéed potatoes? Shouldn't there be mash and gravy?

So to some answers.

It looks much more edible once you've cut into the gorgeous suet surround and allowed the steak and kidney pieces in their rich thick sauce to ooze out lovingly onto the pristine inviting surface of the plate - I didn't photograph that bit because by then I'd got my hands full of eating irons.

There are no vegetables because the choice was:

Cabbage - makes me retch
Carrots - take it or leave it, no substitute for potato
Cauliflower - see cabbage above

There are a lot of sauté potatoes because this pub, the Baker's Arms at Broad Campden in Gloucestershire, is very generous with the portions and that is an exceptionally good thing.

Lastly, sauté potatoes are an acceptable substitute for chips/fries and there are times when you can have just too much mash.

So there you have it. There were four of us. We each had a different main course.. There were no complaints. I drank Timothy Taylor's Landlord Ale, a northern brew a bit off its patch but well kept and presented. Henry drank some lethal cider beverage called Thatcher's - he was still standing later - I'm not sure if that's a good or bad sign.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Sinatra Sucks

People unfortunate enough to come across my ramblings on a regular basis (and you know who you are) will realise that I'm not adverse to lobbing the odd controversial gobbet into the Blogpot to see what it stirs up.

Out on my bike yesterday for a trip round Bredon Hill, I came across this poster on a post box at Bricklehampton. Someone, somewhere, is suffering the compunction to ape Frank Sinatra. As I rode on, I pondered on this at some length. Why would anyone want to copy such a bland, over-hyped, over-rated vocal contortionist?

Now I know that the appreciation of music is highly subjective; not everyone hears the same chord, dances to the same rhythm, hums the same melody.

But Frank Sinatra. I've heard spaniels howl with more emotional appeal.

And don't get me started on Elvis. The triumph of media over mediocrity.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

QE 1

If you believe everything you read, Queen Elizabeth the First slept in as many places as Charles the First hid up oak trees. The news that the Queen was going to pay a visit was often greeted with dismay; accommodating her and her entourage was a short cut to bankruptcy. It would not be surprising to learn that her loyal subjects put the candles out and hid under the stairs if they knew she was coming a-knocking.

This pub, the Queen's Head in Elmley Castle, proudly announces, on a rather decrepit inn sign, that she visited on August 20th, 1570. I wonder how many years it took them to recover. I don't suppose she found much Australian Merlot, New Zealand Chardonnay or Californian Zinfandel on the wine list.

Until a few years ago, she could have popped down the road and quaffed a quart or two of rough local cider at the Plough. There are still places in Worcestershire which serve this potent brew, reputedly flavour-enhanced by the occasional dead rat or some unspecified droppings. Once tried, soon forgotten, as your brain cells are ruthlessly stripped away.

Scrumpy, as it is usually known, was the first alcohol I developed a taste for back in my teens, served up in the back bar of the Swan in Cirencester. Look where it's got me, di-dum, di-dum, di-dum, di-dum, di-dum.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Posh Tea

I'm a great fan of tea and cake and I've the waistline to prove it. Sometimes it can be a simple repaste, a pot of the amber nectar with a scone and jam, a toasted teacake or a hot buttered crumpet. On other occasions it can resemble a feast where caution is thrown to the wind and the tea comes in leaf form rather than the more prosaic bags - I always forget to use the strainer.

Some very posh hotels fleece the tourists with their afternoon teas, places like The Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Empress in Victoria or, as in today's picture, the Chateau at Lake Louise, British Columbia.

They're a rip-off but someone has to play their game or else common sense and reasonableness will gain the upper hand. For that reason alone, and nothing at all to do with cake, I've suffered on your behalf.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Advanced Booking

If you're planning to visit Canada in peak season, it pays to book well ahead to be certain of a good room with ensuite facilities.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Vertical View

Peter mentioned the other day, in a comment to one of my previous posts, that I have a liking for the vertical/portrait format. This is true and, in a particularly obtuse way, I'm most fond of it when photographing horizontal/landscape subjects.

You could easily argue that the format in today's image was dictated by the strong vertical framing of the tree trunks and I wouldn't disagree with that. However (what a brilliant word that is) even without the trees, the chances are I'd have been dangling the camera from my supersized hand rather than gripping it crossways.

There is something about the concentration of sky, distance and foreground that I find mesmerically satifying once all that tedious repitition off to the sides of the image has been dispensed with. After all, you just need a few trees in the middle distance and just the odd mountain - not a giant swathe of them marching across your picture from one side to the other.

Perhaps my stereo vision is ninety degrees out of kilter. I must have it checked.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Simple Shapes

I imagine there are people I work with who wonder who this strange guy is who will suddenly disappear across the other side of the room and start photographing a roll of insulating tape on a table. To be fair, I wonder that myself. But who can resist a good shaft of sunlight?

I played with this set-up for several minutes (I was waiting for lunch to appear). If I'd had any arts training I'd have no doubt spent time drawing shapes such as these at college. But I didn't - I trained as an engineer before moving into more arty pursuits. Consequently my interest in simple shapes - circles, diagonals, cylinders - has not been beaten down by familiarity.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Blue Buttons

One of the many things that I have a fascination with is buttons; it's no doubt something deep-rooted in my psyche that's best left unexplored.

If I'm left to my own devices in a room full of the things, I inevitably end up photographing them. Normally I would keep this vice to myself but in the interest of continuing the twee-free image of these posts (which slipped a bit yesterday with the blue flower), here are a few beautifully crafted blue examples (bar one).

Incidentally a fear of buttons is called koumpounophobia.

Probably refers to the sort that hold your clothes in place.

Rather than the ones that make things go, or stop.


Just thought I'd let you know.

In case you were about to ask.

Which I doubt.

But you can never tell.

So I've played it safe.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Curse of Summer

There have been two days of unseasonably warm weather here in southern England. Apparently it’s been warmer than in the south of France, Spain and North Africa. Well, bully for us! Hopefully it will break tomorrow and we'll be back to rain and icy winds - it is spring, after all.

Now some of you may be wondering (or not - as if I care), why I should be so reluctant to embrace a period of sunshine and warmth. The answer is simple - my neighbour owns a barbecue. Admittedly he’s not yet removed it from whatever hellhole he winters it in. But he will – I can feel it in my water.

What is it about the human race and barbecues? Why, given that the vast majority of people in the developed world own some sort of stove, do they insist on cooking outside as soon as the temperature gets anywhere above freezing? They have doubtless installed their stove in a kitchen. They may have even fitted it up with an extractor fan and bought themselves a selection of suitable cooking utensils and appliances. Perhaps the walls are tiled in tasteful representations of common vegetables and spices. Strings of garlic and onions droop down from false oak beams. A pair of blue-striped aprons ,marked His and Hers hang from a rustic hook on the back of a cupboard door.

So why, then, do they abandon these paradises of the culinary arts to go outside and cook (I use the word loosely) on a device whose sole purpose is to simultaneously cremate and undercook perfectly good sausages?

Barbecues smoke, they smell and their presence encourages loud, unpleasant, drunken people to stand around for hours – they have no choice because barbecued food needs to be cooked for about a fortnight before being even barely edible. These starving masses take their minds off the gastronomic gut bashing to come by talking about golf, football, cars, that miserable so-and-so next door (yes, I heard!) or any of the other inanities that the undernourished brain dwells upon.

Barbecues are the curse of civilisation, as we know it. There is no such thing as a good barbecue, even, Lee, in Australia, the spiritual home of the barbie. They should be broken up, melted down and refashioned to emerge, reborn, as garlic presses, zesters, those little things for making melon balls, or something even more useless, just anything but outdoor incinerators.

Now I think I’ll go and set the oven to 175 degrees Centigrade, pop in a beef and stilton pie and rest easy in the knowledge that, in twenty-five minutes time, it will be perfectly cooked. Time to nip out into the garden with a cold beer so that I can smell the scents of nature wafting on the breeze and listen to the birds sing.

While I still can.

Thinking of nature and redundant metal objects, here's a blue flower and a piece of rusting railway track.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Shadowy Utensils

(Through the power of the internet and the collusion of email, this post is synchronised, give or take a night, with 'Picture of the Day' for May 5th 2006.)

Some people, when entering a restaurant, sit down, peruse the menu, quaff wine, make small talk.

Others, of more eccentric bent, venture forth, search out strange reflective surfaces, cavort amongst the tools of refined eating, entice images from the mundane.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Couple of Faggots

Back in February my friend Peter did a great piece on faggots. As it happens we came upon couple of them this evening at the Chequers in Fladbury. This time they were without their usual sidekicks, Mushy Peas and Mash. Don't they look forlorn? Still they're much more appetising than a pair of shaved coconuts.

Monday, May 01, 2006


For seven years, my presence, in body if not in mind, was required under this chandelier at 09:00 hours sharp. This wretched and tedious demand was not made on every day, fortunately, nor in every week. In fact it was probably for about forty weeks a year but this was more than enough.

If I dared to arrive late, approximately 450 pairs of eyes would swing round to find me, optically pinning me against the large oak doors at the west end of the hall. One pair in particular would single me out for later attention (and possible detention). I was often late; the demands of two paper rounds and an inability to rise early saw to that.

In my first year I was singled out from amongst my brethren in class 1X to ascend the stage at the east end of the hall and receive a prize. I can't remember what it was for - attendance, endeavour, general toadying. The one thing I do know is that it wouldn't have been for sport.

This trip up the steps to momentary fame never occurred again - I had peaked early. The rest of my school days consisted of a geometric series of minor disappointments. I caused not trouble, I made no waves, I just drifted, academically disinclined, but practically determined. I did generate the occasional ripple – no one could understand how I managed a qualification in Latin but not in French.

Today Pixie and I spent several hours in my old Alma Mater selling things that people don’t really need to people who don’t need them – it was as near to fun as you can get without actually having any.