Thursday, May 31, 2007

Revenge of the Chocolate Sponge

My Dad obviously took the last post as a challenge. The result - the best chocolate sponge ever (oh, no, I can hear the yawns - another foodie piece). But honestly, it was - light, fluffy, flavoursome, cooked to perfection and absolutely the right cake to cream ratio. Gorgeous!

And now for something a little different featuring no food, unless you're a caterpillar. Just light and leaves.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Return of the Apple Cake

It's a while since I sang the praises of the St Ann's Well Café on the Malvern Hills. So I'll do it now. Pixie and I had a cake sampling session there on Sunday as recompense for struggling up Happy Valley (and being overtaken by the obligatory octogenarian). My elfin partner had the Lemon Cake which she declared to be first-rate. I plumped for my old favourite, Apple Cake.

But this was no ordinary Apple Cake. Nor was it Marks & Spencer's Apple Cake. It was simply the best homemade Apple Cake, laced with the flavour of almonds and stunningly moist. Do not visit Worcestershire without trying it. (The tea was pretty good as well - it must be the water).

I don't do dogs. But here's one. Don't expect more.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Under the Pier

Sometimes the only way to nip an obsession in the bud is to stop pussyfooting around it and go at it full tilt. So it is with diagonals. Not one or two but dozens, bracing, leaping, rusting, stretching, holding together the twin rows of columns that support the small pier at Teignmouth.

The county of Devon in South West England is a lush, green place. Why? Because it never, ever stops raining. It can do all known forms of precipitation including an excellent rendition of that peculiar, all-penetrating drizzly mist once thought only to exist on the Isle of Skye. It also conjures up fierce, wind-driven, scudding storms that force moisture into your last remaining dry bits, those odd pockets of warmth which the swirling miasma of damp of a few minutes before had left untouched.

There is only one defence against the Devonian climate - find a teashop. We did, it was grand and we steamed away until dry enough to go forth for another dowsing.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lilac Bench

I selected this image, taken today in the small South Devon town of Totnes, for this evening's post and then a crisis arose; I discovered that I could think of nothing to say about it. Despite the unusual colour, the striking leaf pattern or the omnipresent diagonal, I was dumbstruck. What could I say about a lilac bench that would be both witty and erudite, two attributes which I would desperately like to introduce to the witterings portrayed here?

I really do not possess the expertise to talk at any length about street furniture. The seat appears modern in construction, probably late twentieth/early twenty-first century. The colour contrast between the bench and the wall would appear deliberate and just a little extravagant for a traditional English country town. Perhaps it's a nod towards the hippy culture that lingers on here, with barefooted men in skirts and didgeridoo-playing new-age travellers mixing with farmer's wives and posh totty. It's all a mystery and not a particularly interesting one at that.

Since a colourful bench hardly does this Devonian town justice, I've included another picture, taken at the top of the main street. Crossing the road is an example of what may be posh totty, albeit in a dressed-down mode; Pixie assures me that jeans are acceptable for this development of womanhood. If, on closer inspection, they turned out to be by Versace, or a similar vendor of female clothing, then we would have a positive ID; unfortunately I forgot to look.

Friday, May 11, 2007

More Diagonals

I was out walking the hills of Devon with Peter this evening. After a day of almost solid rainfall, the sun appeared over Dartmoor and slipped down into the combe. A stand of trees, black poplars I think, just caught the last of the light, the spring foliage luminescent. Magic.

It was only when I was reviewing the image that I noticed the diagonals, a loose z-shape of hedgerows. So another theme is born.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


The chance spotting of a flyer for a village fete at Eastnor led to an encounter with some of the most succulent blueberry flapjacks and possibly the best chocolate cake I have ever tasted. OK, I apologise to all of my friends and relatives who have strived over the years to satisfy my yearning for that most desirable of foodstuffs but this was the business.

I have a hierarchy of cakes and pastries. It is not rigidly adhered to, some rise, some fall, as time passes and my taste varies. Of late chocolate has been at a low ebb, subordinate to lemon drizzle, apple and almond, coffee and walnut and the ever present quest for the perfect almond croissant. Muffins of complex and wonderful combinations come and go, and even fruitcake makes an occasional appearance, egged on by its supreme accomplice, marzipan. But last Saturday, chocolate made a comeback, fighting its way back to the top of the tree and riding once more firmly upon my waist.

Gingham is an Indonesian word which has come into English via Dutch; I just thought you'd like to know that. When I was at school it was used to make the girls' summer uniforms. I don't know whether that's still the case but it does turn up in the better sort of teashop or English country gathering as a table cloth. Cotton, not plastic or throwaway paper - they do things properly amongst the sunny hills of Herefordshire.

Friday, May 04, 2007


A little over a year ago I started selling images through an online stock photography site called Istockphoto. Although there’s little monetary reward, the egotistical input has been very satisfying with a total of over 1100 sales as of today. One concern I had about going down this route was that it would alter the way I take photographs and lead me to only look for images that had some commercial value. Although there is some truth in this, I can still persuade myself to take pictures purely for the pleasure of doing so. Most of the images I make in churches fall into this category as, with minor exceptions such as some of organ pipes that I’ve sold, ecclesiastical imagery is a non-starter.

So today’s offering. It was taken inside a church but is not overtly religious. The composition appealed to me but it is not, I would imagine, of commercial interest; with a figure in it, it might be but I didn’t have one handy. What I like about it are the strong diagonals, the mix of light and shade and the graduation of the sky tones in the window from white at the horizon to a deeper blue in the firmament above. All arty nonsense but without it the amount of pretentious claptrap floating around in the world would be so much the less.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Establishing Shot

Filmmakers adore clichés and no more so than in what are called ‘establishing shots’. It would be virtually impossible for a production featuring Sydney, Australia, not to include an image of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. After lingering briefly on these over-familiar icons, we’d get, for the geographically challenged, a caption saying ‘Sydney’, or more likely, ‘Sydney, Australia’; this is to distinguish it from Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada which has a pleasant enough harbour but, alas, no opera house or overarching bridge.

Paris – Eiffel Tower, LA – Hollywood sign, Rio de Janeiro – Statue of Christ; the list is endless. And London?

You cannot have an establishing shot of London that does not include one, two or more of these:

A red double-decker bus
A policeman with a funny shaped hat and no gun
A guardsman in his Busby being seriously motionlessness
A black cab
The Houses of Parliament
Tower Bridge

One iconic London object is the Tube Train, forerunner of all the world’s subway systems. It is, by nature, a shy, timid creature, rarely seen above ground in the centre of the city and so missing from the pantheon of images that film directors think signify Britain’s capital.

However once it heads for the suburbs and what little countryside remains, it pops out from its tunnel and cavorts freely across the endless miles, revelling in the kiss of the sun on its trim aluminium body. In today’s image, a District Line train head out into the wilds of Essex, carrying weary city workers home to a supper of fish and chips and an evening of beer and skittles.

Hold on. Did I drop some clichés in there somewhere?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Many people are wedded to their mobile phones, probably more firmly than they are to their partners. If they ring, they have to answer them; wherever they are, they have to be switched on. As is often the case with gadgets, they take over their lives. One simple maxim is forgotten; the phone is our slave, not our master. Very little in life is so urgent that it must be addressed straight away. We managed for hundreds of years without being constantly in touch so why must we be so now? Let fly a letter, post a postcard, signal some semaphore, and just give the irritating little contraptions a rest.

Hang on; I’ve just received a text. Back in a mo.

It’s OK, no one was disturbed. I keep my phone on vibrate.

Now this is obviously a week for thinking about what I do for a living. Perhaps spending endless hours sat in a warm, airless box is concentrating the mind. I like today’s image because of the lighting. Strong, low, evening sunlight is sweeping in from left of centre, caressing and warming the palm of the woman’s hand, cupping the rays and reflecting them back onto her face. She is oblivious to this, intent on her conversation with a distant friend. Sound, light, heat, all brought together by this modern act of communication.

Often, when lighting a production, it is these little serendipitous tricks of the light that lift the action from the mundane to the sublime. On location near Liverpool I lit a night scene for a play in which a tall, heavily set man approached a woman lying on the ground. He was silhouetted, his face in deep shadow; she lay, weeping, in the pool of light I had provided, his shadow passing over her. As he picked the woman up, her coat inadvertently fell open. The light, streaming in over his head, reflected back off her white blouse and slowly revealed his face. Absolute perfection and totally unplanned; it was all done with a solitary lamp and the others I had ready to light him with were never switched on (I hasten to add that the production still got charged for them – mustn’t make the job too cheap).

It was a cracking piece of lighting for which I could really take no credit. The laws of physics and greatly improved camera technology had won through. (Obviously I’m not daft. When the director complimented me on the look of the scene, it was all down to me. It was design, mate, not accident; never pass up credit). Simplicity and lighting go hand in hand; why try and control the spread, direction, position and intensity of several lights when you can do it with one. It means a lot less setting up and a lot more eating and drinking time (and flirting with the make-up ladies, if that’s your thing).