Monday, April 30, 2007

A Sort of Career

A couple of weeks ago I celebrated, if that’s the right word, 39 years working in broadcasting, 33 of them for the BBC and the rest as a freelance. I started on the bottom rung of the ladder as a Technical Assistant, grade D. Within 3 weeks I’d been regraded to OP1 on a scale that went to OP10. I reached OP5 before transferring into the management structure at MP3. In later years I was a 4J6M and then a Band 9. None of this made sense to anyone involved other than those working in the Personnel Department (a term used before people became a mere commodity to be administered by Human Resources). No doubt there was a whole floor of highly-paid individuals at Broadcasting House dedicated purely to dreaming up and implementing grading structures within the Beeb.

For 26 years I’ve been lighting television productions. There are few genre that I’ve not stuck my toe into although my speciality was drama; I held out for a long time before I was forced to work on light entertainment shows with their nasty up-beat songs and jokey presenters and as for sit coms, I avoided them like the plague; the few I was offered I managed to pass on to junior colleagues so they could gain experience. Underhand? You bet, but it maintained my sanity.

So any drama production, if it was deep, dark and melodramatic, was right up my street. Some of my favourite scenes – a woman crying at a window, a man sobbing under a prison bunk, two men fighting in blazing sun through a French window, Shakespeare attempting suicide. If I say so myself, they were gems of the lighting designer’s art.

Although I specialised in gloom, there must have been occasional bursts of levity. I just can’t remember any of them. I thought I had one a moment ago, the wedding of Amelia and George in the BBC’s 1987 production of Vanity Fair. However, thinking back, I realize that I filled the church with mist and kept it sombre to reflect the desperation of their situation, marrying on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo.

So darkness prevailed. Is it reflected in other realms of my life? I hope not. I admit I’m fond of funereal music but I’m also very taken with laughter. I like to work in a light, humorous atmosphere, where only the actual image making is taken seriously; everything else should be as fun as it possibly can be. That is my mission in life. Let jollity prevail. However please don’t bring on any clowns. I can’t be doing with them; they’re far too weird.

If I’d been working for 70 years or was having my 70th birthday or had started work in 1970, then the following image would have some relevance. However none of those things are true. It’s just a reflection shot that appealed to me while I hung around outside a department store waiting for Pixie to emerge, a not uncommon activity on my part.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

An Old Vic

I’m halfway through lighting a ten-day poker tournament in the east end of London. We’re not at the usual venue, a poky little broom cupboard underneath a football grandstand. Instead we’re using a film sound stage. The facilities are so much more salubrious, as long as I stay within the secured confines of the lot; outside, on the mean streets of Bow, it can be scary.

I’m without Niki and Tracy, my harem (that’s how they describe themselves – I wouldn’t dare use such a term) so there’s a lot less laughing and chocolate than usual. Still I’m getting by, soldiering on against the odds.

By way of an image I’ve returned to the Victorians. The columns and girders of this defunct gasometer could have been merely functional, a simple framework to support the moveable cylinder that stored the coal gas generated nearby. However no engineer of the nineteenth century would have settled for that. If you have columns, they need capitals and flourishing brackets. If you have girders, they need piercing to reduce weight, not crudely but with style, a filigree of interlinking circles.

I’m not sure how much longer these masterpieces of the iron founders’ art will last. They stand in the area of London that is destined to host the 2012 Olympic Games, a feast of hype, extravagance and, no doubt, wasted opportunity. I may be wrong, perhaps the local population will benefit. However history suggests otherwise.

On that cynical note, I will close. The current game has been running for nearly three hours and all six players are still in; it’s going to be a long, tedious day. Where is the lemon sherbet or the Turkish delight when you need it most?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Me Again

A little narcissistic this evening, to even out the balance with the picture of Pixie the other day - I'm fairly minuscule in this image, though, a state of being that has tended to elude me in the past.

Being boldly built is not always as beneficial as it might seem. Admittedly I have many casual friendships with little old ladies in supermarkets for whom the Rich Tea biscuits are a shelf too high. I am always on hand to tie balloons to the porches of new housing schemes and few screw-topped jars can resist my vice-like grip.


My head is too close to many of the door lintels that I come in contact with on a daily basis and, to add insult to injury, my feet are too far from my head. These lower appendages have a quasi-independant existence, constantly at war with protruding objects, loose paving slabs and puddles. Their close relatives, my shins, are permanently scarred and scabbed through encounters with coffee tables and five-barred gates. It's rough down there, in the dark and dank regions beyond my knees.

I reached 6' 3" in my teens. However I have not been measured in the vertical sense for many decades and unless everyone around me is shrinking at an alarming rate, it is my reasoned belief that I am still growing. This is not a good thing; I have already reached a point where further extension in any direction could only be construed as extravagance.

So let me away to a sporting goods shop for a cricketing helmet, some shin-guards and a pair of stout miner's boots.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Doing the Crossword

There are some activities that are tailor-made for the cosy nook of an old Devonian pub. Here Pixie sits, contemplating 12 across, bathed in the glow of a table lamp and warmed by an unseen log fire, the tang of smoke in the air.

Real ale is being consumed, ale brewed on the premises, a strong, nutty, slightly sweet concoction, the sort of beer that leads to an evening of gentle supping and a night of silliness. Steadfast and upright in the centre of the table, condiments, ready to go forth into battle with a pile of mash and some giant sausages.

But until then, the crossword, to be resolutely tackled against a background of murmured conversation, clinking glasses and crackling wood. Heavens are made of this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Organ pipes - I'm sure I've been there before but I just can't remember. Anyway, I like them. Something about the rhythm inherent in the image must appeal. Also they take light well, as in this picture, lit by flash bounced off of a gold reflector.

I know that organ music isn't everyone's cup of tea; some think it too sombre or too religious. Not I.

Majestic. Overwhealming. Intense. Magnificent. Emotional. Stirring.

I often listen to it as a means of relaxation or as a source of uplift. But then I'm a bit weird.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Although it might appear that Peter and I are an inseparable duo, a photographic Laurel and Hardy, wresting strange images from the clutches of the British countryside, this is not always so. In fact much of our picture making is carried out solo and without the benefit of a safety net.

Such was the case a couple of days ago when I decided to revisit a location at Rous Lench that had intrigued me on an earlier occasion. Given the right lighting, the grove of trees to the south of the churchyard presents an interesting mixture of light, shade and symbolism. In one place you have a dark enclosed passage, a gate, and a bright horizon - psychological mumbo jumbo on a plate.

This time I felt the need to pose a figure waiting at the gate to give it some additional meaning – a farmer surveying his domain, looking out for a errant cow, a lover waiting for his beloved to come tripping o'er the lea, or, as in this case, a large photographer wearing a strange Australian hat. Without my trusty companion, this had to be a Do-It-Yourself job. Fortunately my camera allows me a choice of shutter delay. I settled for 10 seconds on the basis that 2 would give me a heart attack, 5 would lead to me tripping over a tree root in the rush to get in position and 20 would give me time to have a nap, which I didn't really need.

Here is the result. I got a lot of exercise dashing back and forth to get the correct exposure and also persuading myself to stand in the right place.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Midnight; I'm again seized by the urge to write something but I've no idea what. Nor do I have an image in mind. So really a bit rambly, if there is such a word. And if there isn't, there should be.

I'm trying to pull together ideas for another short story - I haven't written one for some time and the novel is parked in a backwater of my brain, empty of fuel. It's not as if I'm not working on it at all; I sketched out the dedications and the acknowledgments today. However it would perhaps be more useful if I had some idea of what happens in the remaining 9/10ths of the book that I've not plotted yet - yes, it's old-fashioned enough to have a plot. Also it's not helped that I've a notion to turn it into something more aimed at teenagers - sometimes a bandwagon just beckons to be jumped on.

I not really certain that I'm carrying a novel in me anyway. I much prefer writing shorter pieces and the 'writing a novel' thing is really much too pretentious pour moi. Doubtless it will eventually fall through a large crack in my strangely busy life and vanish into the palace of lost endeavours.

The other thing I could do, if I got the appropriate area of my anatomy into gear, is to send off to a publisher a story I wrote a few years ago which has been critically well-received by the six or so people who've read it. But can I bring myself to do it? What if they were just being kind? Egos are such delicate things, easily punctured and difficult to patch when deflated. Do I want to cope with the trauma of rejection? Will I be overwhelmed by the disappointment and be forced to seek refuge in a small shed on a remote island in the Bristol Channel? Will I lose my liking for 85% cocoa solid chocolate? Should I grow my moustache again? Do I really have women's ankles?

So many questions, so few answers.

Now for a picture. How about a staircase leading to a closed door - surely there has to be some symbolism in there somewhere?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Life of Riley

All that's left of a car that's ceased to live the "Life of Riley" and now lies mouldering amongst the nettles and primroses of an unkempt farmyard.

This motorised chariot will have no long fond farewell, driven by tweed-clad middle-aged men on fine summer evenings, trips to sunkissed meadows by gently flowing streams. Its leather upholstery will no longer feel the nurturing balm of soft cream nor the caress of giggling girls in flowing silk dresses. The rich blue bodywork will never again be polished to a deep and satisfying sheen, a mirrored finish that reflects the tartan cashmere rugs, the overloaded wicker baskets or the glistening magnums of champagne.

There will be no more picnics for Riley.

His time has past.

Rust on, old friend.