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.

Frog Provided

Susan rose brilliantly to the challenge of finding a frog for my lily pads, complete with flag fluttering in the breeze. Thanks, Susan.

Now if someone can manage a rendition of the 'Marseillaise', with or without croaking (I have a person in mind).

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Frog Required

Lily pads are irresistible. I can never pass one without knocking off an image or two.

What this picture lacks, though, is a frog. I wonder if I could train one to hop onto the leaves at my command and then pose, perhaps with one leg in the air.

Or holding a French Tricolour, while croaking the Marseillaise

That would give me the 'splash of red' this picture needs.

I'll nip in the local pet shop tomorrow. After all, they had a wasp in the window yesterday so I'm sure a frog will be no problem.

(I apologise for the 'wasp in the window' line which comes from a joke so old that Neolithic man probably used it, or would have done if he'd invented the window……and the idea of pets……and shopping)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Be Swift

Southern Britain is experiencing unusual weather at the moment with temperatures in the low to mid 30 degrees centigrade. (In writing that last sentence, I realise that I have at last, forty years after the change, stopped thinking in Fahrenheit. I wonder how long before I stop thinking in ounces?)

Anyway, less of these distractions, flit, flit, flit, is it a wonder nothing gets done?

Yesterday I was looking for a cool place to take pictures in. (That's cool as in not warm, not as in funky - does anyone still say that?) I tried to get in to the Abbey at Tewkesbury but there was a service on and I wasn't wearing the correct mindset. Instead I walked around the back of this 900 year old building and found a tree to stand under.

Above me scores - are we still allowed scores? They're non-metric. Ok, above me tens of swifts flashed past their nests in the eaves of the nave, screaming and shrilling. Every once in a while one of them would peel off and dart up to a youngster, hand over its payload - nice gnat, dear, eat while it's still writhing - and then rejoin its brethren.

Have you ever tried photographing swifts in flight? Let me rephrase that, have you ever been stupid enough to try photographing swifts in flight, in temperatures of 32C (90F - you never lose it!)? Talk about perspire. Do those things move? They are as near as damn it aeronautically perfect. I spent a good half hour melting away before I gave up.

Next time I'll do dodos.

Monday, July 17, 2006


Josephine posted some images of doors and columns the other day. They're intriguing things, are doors, although I doubt they know it. Portals to new lives.

The Chinese thought them important enough to give them their own door gods. The Romans, not given to minimalism, endowed them with not only the well-known two-faced Janus, but also other lesser dignitaries to perform specific functions. While the main man looked after doorways, gates, etc, Forculus attended to household doors, Cardea to hinges and Limentinus looked after the threshold. Pretty well covered all round.

Now if I was feeling a bit more wordy this evening, I could plough on about columns as well, but I won't. The Doric order unites both Josephine's picture of a building in the USA and mine of the Town Hall in Tewkesbury, England.

It's as simple as that.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


Was it once propped up, this epitome of efficient transport, its pedal resting resolutely upon the kerb?

Then did a truck pass, or perhaps the 551 to Evesham (via Fladbury), the gently swirling summer zephyr swelling to a mighty gale, the cycle buffeted, lurching, plummeting?

The plastic bag, a poor companion to its sturdier cousin, might have swayed the balance. We can only guess what it contains - five pound of spuds, a library book, a can of paint, a pair of resoled shoes? Such weighty things could easily disturb the precious equilibrium.

Or was the bike abandoned, flung down, wilfully cast aside, its rider running up the street, spying a long-lost love, a thief, some bargain knitwear? Did the mirror bounce dangerously upon the unforgiving pavement, flex, twist, compress, think shattering thoughts?

We cannot tell. We did not witness this transitory event, not I, nor my fellow traveller, behatted, sun-starved, lurking coolly beneath the shadowing tree.

It just happened, one warm summer’s morning, in a market town, somewhere in England. No earths were shattered. Beyond, at home and abroad, in other sunny climes, much darker tragedies unfolded.

Friday, July 14, 2006


The fourteenth century west window of this church is not particularly fancy in terms of its glass. It was probably put in by the Victorians, those arch villains of ecclesiastical restoration. Many a church lost its ageless identity under their heavy hands and this one was is no exception.

The small panes appear to have been bought cheap from a nineteenth century discount store, perhaps a branch of Glass R Us or Kwik Kut Panes. They vary in colour, setting and quality, lending a fascinating patchwork effect to the outside world. The expressions 'fell of the back of a cart, guv' or 'got them from a mate down the boozer' might have been the words uttered as the churchwardens surveyed their intended purchase.

There aren't many old churches where you can't find something of interest picture-wise providing the light is good and, as I've said before, there are not many buildings that allow you such a free rein to pursue your strange quests for imagery and illusion. You tend not to get security bursting in on you, just little old ladies coming in to check you're not nicking the candlesticks.

Although I could not countenance the idea of organised religion or the existence of a supreme being, I can't deny the spiritual uplift that spending time in some of these buildings gives me.

It is an experience brought about physical forces, real sensations, not mystical ones or the side effects of a latent superstition. A building has an ambience which it communicates, good or ill. It is a sensation created within its confines, a product of light, darkness, sound, texture, smell, age and tradition.

No gods required.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Four Trees

Occasionally Peter and I convert a BDO (Boys' Day Out) into a BEO. This usually involves adjourning to a pub either in his village or mine.

This evening we added exercise to this activity by walking a couple of miles along a stretch of the canal that's featured several times in my journal over the past couple of weeks.

The light was perfect, radiating from a cloudless sky at a low angle through the reed beds and willows. We strolled, made images, exchanged pleasantries with other walkers, fishermen, boaters, cyclists, the whole pantheon of human life that relishes a warm evening doing something by water.

We supped ale at the Fir Tree at Dunhampstead (what a great word 'sup' is, must use it more often). On the way back in the gathering gloom, I tried once more to get a satisfactory picture of the four firs at Oddingley; I've been fascinated by this row of trees for many years and the coming of digital cameras has allowed me to waste even more time pointing a lens at them. It's not even a group of three.

At the moment there's too much foliage in the way; I took this picture holding the camera above my head - no mean feat with a 400mm lens stuck on the front of it but we're made of tough stuff, we Gloucestershire folk. I think we'll return in winter when the leaves have fallen and the rushes died back. Then there'll also be the opportunity to use the reflectivity of the canal in the foreground.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Hard Place

Despite having a strong allergic reaction to them, I like cats. They're independent creatures that seem to know their own minds and are masters of manipulation. Before food - love and affection, after food - abandonment and disdain. A tiny bit like me, really.

This cat is giving me the one eye of disdain and is it surprising? In its mind's eye it can see a soft quilt and a crisp white duck down pillow. And what has it got? A hard tiled roof and a stone. Surely that can't be comfortable?

Down below, in the St Anne's Well cafe at Malvern, there are other delights. For today we discovered that not only does it serve possibly the best apple & almond cake in the world (that's the whole wide version we’re talking about) but also possibly the best lemon cake.

I must point out that this personal award refers to 'straight' lemon cake, not the 'drizzled' variety, the honours for which currently go to Ann's Cafe in Clapham, North Yorkshire. I'm glad we cleared that up.

I wouldn’t like to give the impression that I circle the world eating cake although there is a grain of truth in that assumption.

Best muffin currently held by a café in Thames, North Island, New Zealand, incidentally. Hoping to get back soon for an update.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Driftwood & A Bolt

Pixie asked me to make her some images of driftwood so that she can fill an irritating little space on the wall above the sink in the downstairs cloakroom; I don't know why we call it that because I've never seen a cloak in there but, hey, ho.

It just so happens that we have a few bits of suitable wood hanging around in the garden, rescued from foreshores around the British Isles so getting them together was easy enough. We also have lots of pseudo beach given our liking for replacing grass (nasty stuff, needs cutting, fills up with weeds and moss, goes brown in summer) with pebbles (none of the above but hard on the feet).

So I got down and grovelled, playing with the direction of the sun and depth of focus. It was a short-lived exercise as the sun went in and I got bored waiting for it to come out to play again. Still I did get something that might pass muster, and a bit of rust to boot.

Monday, July 10, 2006


One of my many photographic missions is to make railways look quirky and just a little bit arty. Hopefully I've achieved that here.

It's the arm that caught my eye. A waiting arm, hand flexed, ready for action, eager to depress the dead man's handle, apply the power and be off to pastures new.

Other things?

The limited colour palette, the stark blackness, the presence of the shadowy photographer, this works for me on many strange levels.

So there you are; just for once I'm not whingeing about one of my images.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Blue & Orange

'One should never give a woman anything that she can't wear in the evening'.
Oscar Wilde was a master of the throwaway line and I caught this one while watching 'An Ideal Husband' this evening.

What a great idea! No more lunches, chocolates, parking, bottled water, petrol, coffee, cream teas, DVDs with Johnny Depp in them, sausages, knick-knacks. Just evening things - silk blouses, glittery shoes, sparkling gems.

Hang on a minute.

Are you sure you wouldn't prefer a doughnut?

Blue and orange is a striking combination, just far enough from the complementary colour norm to make it interesting.

Also I'm a sucker for classically shaped vases with high-gloss glazes. This one is reminiscent of the early twentieth century art pottery from the Ruskin and Royal Lancastrian factories, now sadly priced beyond my reach.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Making for Hay while the Sun Shines

As it was Peter's birthday today, the four of us decided to head off into Wales and visit the book town of Hay-On-Wye.

Firstly, however, the inner man and woman needed satisfying and that could only be achieved after a high-speed dash down the M50 to Ross-On-Wye.

For in this interesting Herefordshire town is 'Jolly Roger's Pantry', one of the best breakfast venues in the British Isles. Any place that will substitute hash browns for tomatoes has got to be in the top flight. (He's doing another food blog, I hear you say. Is eating all he ever thinks of? Well, yes, mostly). That's not my car, by the way; I wouldn't fit in it, let alone my three svelte passengers.

We then skipped across the border, avoiding the patrols by using backroads, passing through Llanthony and over the Bluff down to Hay. Tea was drunk, cake was eaten, books were bought. Next stop, Kilpeck.

Kilpeck Church is astonishing. A magical sacred site, rich in eccentric and wonderful carving, mostly dating from the 12th century, all wrought from vibrant warm sandstone. Someone less rational might even find religion here.

The day ended with a splendid meal at Scrumpy House at Much Marcle - sausage, mash and onion gravy were involved.

I took the opportunity to make an image of Peter. Not having any oils with which to portray him, I thought a reflection in oil would be an acceptable substitute - olive oil for gloss, balsamic vinegar for depth. I can't really say it's a good likeness as, despite his advancing years, he looks nowhere near as old as this photograph makes him and his head is still attached to the rest of his body. To be honest, if I was him, I would sue.

I think this one is much more flattering

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Swan Eight

Peter put up an image some months ago of the letter 'J'. It was an example of the sort of exercises they set students on photographic courses. Take your camera, a roll of film (how quaint!) and find a naturally occurring alphabet.

I imagine numbers could also be part of the brief. With that in mind I'm offering this swan, preening itself on the still waters of a canal.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Here's another version of my canal/train project, taken on a duller day and without a woman-in-white (but with added boat).


I've had this photo of Ludlow Castle in Shropshire sat on my desktop for several months. Since I'm on a bit of a historical kick at the moment, I thought it was time it had an outing.

We have planning laws in the UK designed to protect sites of historical interest from the encroachment of unsympathetic development. However, as in any society, these can be circumvented by applying grease to the right palms, chatting up with your mates in the Freemasons, or taking influential people out to dinner and slipping them the odd bottle of malt whisky at Christmas.

I've no evidence that this has happened in Ludlow but you've got to wonder at a system which would allow a unsightly caravan/trailer park be sited so close to a medieval monument dating from the 11th century.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Not Bright Enough

I've had a few attempts at getting this shot to work and it's still not there yet. All the components are in the right place - great red train, reflected in the still waters of the canal, handy blonde woman walking along the towpath, strong sunlight, deep shadows.

The problem is lack of depth of field and too low a shutter speed. It's not too obvious in the small image shown here but in the original, the walker is just on the wrong side of the focus and the train is blurred.

Solutions? Well I could use a shorter focal length lens (this is at 135mm) but that would not give me the look I'm after. I could use a tripod which would allow me to stop the lens down a bit (from f7) and drop the shutter speed (currently 1/320th second); that would probably give me too much motion blur on the train, which is travelling at about 90 mph. I could increase the ISO setting ( it was at 160) and make the camera more sensitive but that would increase the noise.

So what is the answer? Well it's not an easy one but I think the solution is to move the earth a bit closer to the sun and get the light level up a bit. Obviously even with the temperature in Worcestershire today at an unlikely 31 centigrade, the sun is just not bright enough.

I'll write to NASA and see if they can give it a tug in the right direction.

(PS: I've just thought of another solution to the depth-of-field problem; I could have shouted at the woman to run and then perhaps she would have been in focus by the time the other end of the train (which is also red) came past. Why do I always think of these things too late? And would she have come back and given me a good slapping?)

According to Blogger this is my 250th post. When will this torment end?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Architectural Interlude

Today, you lucky people, two images with the trademark dollop of rouge.

The presence of a pair of cannon at your front door is a sure sign that you have achieved your place in British society; either that or you've made a mint in the scrap metal business.

Although it is frowned upon by those in authority, they are an excellent means of ridding your domain of Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, door-to-door salesman, purveyors of lucky white heather and any of the other myriad of minor nuisances that would otherwise spoil a day under an oak tree with a large gin and a copy of the Times.

Where an invasion of peasants is concerned, they should only be fired at the Great Unwashed after a suitable verbal or visual warning. Any common expletive will do, accompanied by descriptive phrases describing parenthood and/or place of birth. The waving of fists or a shotgun (if you have one handy) can also count as an indication that you mean business and that a whiff of grapeshot is imminent.

Dunstall House is typical of the more upmarket Cotswold town dwelling, elegantly proportioned and strategically sited at a junction. It was built in the 17th century and refronted in the 18th, no doubt as a result of a visit from a make-over guru from London. It is constructed from the oolitic limestone commonly used for buildings in this part of Gloucestershire.

When I was a lad, this building was the nurses' home for the local hospital, a haunt of caped and capped angels of mercy, in sensible shoes.