Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Churning Away

I'm back from my three-week stint working in London and so have less time to pound the keyboard - do I hear a sigh of relief?

Today there was a tasty bit of light floating around and I thought a camera outing was in order; I fancied knocking out some images to upload to iStock, the photographic stock agency I shoot for. Pixie wanted to pop to Alcester (I think popping means a trip of less than two hours but I'm awaiting a precise definition) so we set off over the Lench Hills. This range is to the north of our village, rising up from the River Avon; they fall far short of mountain size and are of a gentle, pastoral nature. I like the Lenches; they're understated and very English, in reality more like hillettes, although very demanding to a fat man on a bike.

On the way I clocked that this old pair of milk churns (well screwed-down to the platform to deter the light-fingered) were rather gorgeously lit. I took a few pictures with just the barest hint of grovelling then we set off again (gosh, this is all so spiffingly exciting!) In Alcester the sun was still shining. Rather than retiring to the somewhat eccentric coffee/curtain material shop I patronise, I meandered around, squirting off the odd photo and having a good time. The town has a strong Georgian heritage - that's Georgian as in mad king and not as in former outpost of Russian imperial might.

Several years ago, when BritishTelecom attempted to replace all the traditional phone boxes with perspex and aluminium monstrosities, towns and villages with a bit of history quite rightly protested. As a result some of these red icons were kept on although I doubt they'll be in existence for much longer given the irresistible rise of the mobile phone. These instruments of refined torture are so ubiquitous that it would seem that they're issued at birth. Still the old boxes give you a place to shelter in a heavy rainstorm, particularly if you have a liking for the intimate odour that often pervades them.

I ducked into the church, searching for old monuments to immortalise in digits. As I snapped away I became aware that my shutter seemed to be very fast for the light available. Checking the camera I found it was set to 1000 ISO (I usually use 160). This is far too fast a speed for anything I might want to submit to iStock for sale because of the amount of graininess caused. All my efforts to find something commercial had failed.

Never mind. We stopped off on the way home and I had a very scrummy toasted teacake - there's no disappointment that can't be cured with food.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Party Time - Not

I'm not gregarious enough for parties, at least not for anything involving more than four people (and that's stretching it a bit). The thought of an evening spent surrounded by balloons fills me with gloom. Drinking warm, weak beer from a plastic glass is just one more facet of the devil's work. Anything vaguely edible on a stick or with a bone in it, needs to be cast to the winds. Life is just too short for enforced merriment. If hell exists, it will not be a place of fire and brimstone; it will be a flatly-lit room full of drunks talking about sport, their jobs, their kids or their neighbours. The food will be tepid and taste of cabbage.

I haven't been to any parties recently, thankfully. These thoughts were triggered by this image of balloons snagged on a barbed wire fence. The scene conjures to perfection my view of large scale jollity. Dull. Monotonous. Gloomy. I used to go to a lot of after-show shindigs where we joined the lovies and stood around telling each other how marvellous it all was. I was usually the first to leave; going home to Pixie was always going to be more entertaining.

If I'm at a party with Pixie - a very rare occurrence - I am made to behave myself. For a start I'm not allowed to indulge in my usual party activity which is to find a book or newspaper and retire to a dark corner (I have been known to take reading materials with me). If she catches me playing games on my PDA, I'm also in trouble. Nor am I allowed to eat too many cold sausages, pork pie segments or crisps. And I get told off if if I start talking her into leaving within 15 minutes of getting there. Also I'm expected to mingle. What an obscene activity that is! I'd rather hit my thumb repeatedly with a giant hammer.

Being antisocial is a real chore but it's worth striving for. Eventually you stop being invited to anything.

Now that is worth blowing a balloon up for.

(Oddly enough I'll talk to anyone I don't know it it's one-to-one; always up for a chat with the postman, girl on the checkout, bloke in the street. It's the group thing I can't cope with. No doubt there's a word for it in the psychological lexicon).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Some trains in the UK have a 'quiet' coach. Within its supposed cocoon of silence, the passenger, or should I say customer to use the modern jargon, should be able to relax, untroubled by tinny iPod headphones or mobiles with jaunty tunes.

Of course this admonition of 'shhhh' is totally ignored by those sorry dregs of humanity who lack respect for their fellow man and are too lazy to go out to the vestibule between the coaches. No, for them, the broadcasting of their intimate call to the mistress arranging a little bit of 'how's your father?' later, followed by the thinly apologetic excuse to the wife - 'working late, dear' - is for us all to hear. Makes men of them, I suppose.

However the vocal garbage of these cretins is as nothing compared to the train announcements. At every stop, and there are nine or ten between Evesham and London, a weary-sounding female voice goes through a litany of tedium concerning what company it is, what service it is, what to do during the expected crash, where the buffet is, where first-class accommodation resides, the position of the family coach and also that of the quiet coach. She then procedes to list what can't be done in the quiet zone. Unfortunately that doesn't include making repetitive, loud and banal announcements. I timed her outpouring once; it lasted 1 minute, 48 seconds. And you get one at every stop.

All this is grist to the mill to an old reactionary like myself. Technology for technology's sake. I used to be able to get on a train and travel without any on-board announcements whatsoever. Also I got to where I wanted to be, often, strangely enough, on time. While on the train there was nothing that important that I needed to communicate it instantly. If I wanted entertainment, I read a book, an essentially quiet mode of passing the time with only the gentle swishing sound of a page turning. A real human would pass through now and again, dressed in a natty uniform, and remind us that we needed to be in the front five coaches if we wanted to get off at Evesham. No disembodied voice warned us of the dire consequences of leaning out of the window, of opening the door before the train had stopped or the perils of leaving your belongings behind. As an educated person, you just knew these things. And if you didn't know the first two, then it was one less idiot in the gene pool.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oz Groups of Three

I was thinking about Australia this morning, as you do from time to time, and also about groups of three (ditto); it beats thinking about how bad the traffic is and whether I really should eat any more Chocolate Hob Nobs. These thoughts sent me off to my back-catalogue of images from our last trip in 2005 - any excuse to wring some more mileage out of them.

The first is for Lee, and any trainspotters who may drop in. There's a roadbridge just to the north of Spencer Street station in Melbourne which is ideal for a bit of locomotion photography. I found an excuse to be there both at sunset and sunrise.

The pelicans are at Bateman's Bay, on what I believe is called the South Coast but it's on the east facing edge of the country - all relative, I suppose.

Lastly perhaps the most over-exposed icon of the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world. Incredibly expensive restaurant. The building is copyrighted and cannot be sold in photographic form without permission, even in a long shot. Normally I'd be inclined to remove it in Photoshop and replace it with a grasping hand but today I'm feeling generous.

Incidentally the ferry, named Queenscliff is, like others on the run to Manly, named after a famous Sydney surfing beach. Isn't that a refreshing change from deceased Queens, Princesses, etc.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Heavy Dapple

A week or so ago I talked about dingle, the bits of tree, branch or twig that cinematographers and photographers place in an image to form a frame, to lead the eye to a point of interest or just to break up an otherwise blank canvas - a swathe of blue sky for example.

Dingle has a mate in the break-up stakes. It's name is Dapple. I know that sounds like the name of a horse from a particularly soppy kid's story involving a wicked step-mother, a flaxen-haired girl and a street urchin from the wrong end of town, but I can assure you, it's also the name of a lighting technique.

In my business we create dapple by making suitable shapes in sheets of wood or metal and shining lights through them. Like most things in life, Nature can do it better although, as we know, not consistently and certainly not when you want it. In the image above, the plane trees in the town of Uzes in southern France have treated this building to what can only be described as the heavy version; Somewhere in this dense shade is a wall and three pairs of shutters.

And just out from the wall, a table, four chairs and some ice-cold lager.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Posts per Month

As a nerdy exercise, I've produced this graph (click here).

Proof if proof were needed.

Losing Muse Alert

I think I can see my creative muse waving goodbye. It's standing on the other side of the studio, wreathed in mist from the smoke machine, the twinkle of the star cloth reflected in its glasses.

Glasses? Interesting concept. I'm always complimenting Pixie when she wears her glasses. I wear specs myself, have done so since I started learning to drive- my passengers insisted on it as the words 'Is there anything coming' as I pulled out to overtake were apparently a little unnerving.

I should have worn them at school but vanity prevented it. As a result I saw nothing that was explained on the board and suffered academically. The astute amongst you will be asking why I didn't sit at the front of the class although you already know the answer. Pride - the kids who reckoned they were something sat at the back.

But would a muse wear glasses? Shouldn't they be symbolic of perfection? Maybe so but Pixie reading is the image I'll keep in mind for a muse (and she is perfection!).

So why do I think my writing muse is taking leave? Difficult to say. I've noticed that the inclination to write these posts comes and goes and rarely lasts long. Perhaps I'm just too fickle, always waiting for the next challenge and easily tiring of the present one. Low boredom threshold? I don't think so although some may disagree. I used to be into a lot of apparently mind-blowingly boring hobbies - train-spotting, ham radio, bird-watching, all activities where the ability to sit in one place and await events was essential. Maybe I've grown out of it. As you get older perhaps you have only two choices - settle into routine and wait it out or scrabble after as much new experience as possible. I'm more tempted by the latter.

But it won't include pot-holing. I've not got many phobias but one definite is a fear of being trapped in a tunnel or hole underground. I don't mind being below but it has to be in an area where I can stand and, should I feel the urge, leap. Darkness is OK but anything involving hands-and-knees is out. Dragging myself on my well-proportioned belly through rocky passageways is not on the menu.

So what is on the menu?

Well, it's Saturday and, as a result, the restaurant where I'm working is shut (anyone who entertained any thoughts that the UK might be awakening to the idea of service take note). So it's Tesco's again, a miserable choice of sandwiches, cold pasta and ready-meals. What I wouldn't do for a plate of sausage & mash with mushy peas; actually I wouldn't be allowed sausages as I had them for breakfast - it's one of Pixie's more interesting rules for life.

So there you are. I started this post assuming my muse was off on an extended break and then, with its assistance, I've managed to put together an long rambling missive about absolutely nothing.

Ah, now I look more closely, I can see that it's just signaling that it's popping out for a Cappuccino and would I like one?

Fat chance - the canteen's closed.

It's a beautiful, sunny day in London so here's an image of a rain storm on Dartmoor in Devon - Yin & Yang.

Friday, February 15, 2008


I’ve used these pages in the past to foment some ill-conceived drivel about routine and its insidious corruption of our lives. This morning I realised that, when I’m staying away from home, I slip into one that fits like a glove; it’s called breakfast.

The time at which this routine takes place varies according to my work schedule so it is not like some rituals I’ve come across, such as not having a cup of tea because it’s not four-o-clock yet.

When working in London I stay at a comfortable hotel on the outskirts, in Essex. I arrive at the dining room and I’m shown to a table – I don’t mind where they put me but they know I need to be on my own; breakfast is not a companionable meal of the day with strangers. I position my copy of the ‘Times’ to the left of the neat, white, linen napkin and its set of three utensils. Then I head for the cereals, emptying a packet of Kellogg’s Special K into a white china bowl, adding semi-skimmed milk and then collecting a glass of orange juice.

I return to the table, spread the pristine napkin across my lap and read the front page of the paper while slurping the cereal and quaffing the juice. A waitress arrives with coffee. I pour a cup.

By the end of page three, I’m ready for the next stage. Off to the buffet, collect a white china plate and then approach the covered, chrome receptacles. Here the ritual can suffer a slight set back as they’re not always in the same order and I don’t know what to expect until I slide back the lid. However at some point, from the twelve different items on offer, I will remove two pork & herb sausages, two hash browns and a mess of baked beans – I ignore the ordinary sausages (taste of chemicals), the bacon (too salty), tomatoes (too squishy, and they taste of tomato), eggs, (all forms – allergy), black pudding, (too melodramatic) and the mushrooms (too watery).

I don’t have toast and I look longingly at the croissants and Danish pastries but I don’t partake. Back to my place, spreading the crisp napkin back across my lap (to catch any stray baked beans that do not come to rest on my stomach, leaving a reddish trail down my sweater). Then I set too with the knife and fork. It normally takes me up to page six to finish, depending on the quality and interest of the stories offered in my newspaper of choice. Then, and here the routine can vary, I may have another cup of coffee. Or I may not. Discarding the napkin and gathering up my paper, I leave, exchanging pleasantries with the staff on the way.

That is how routines are made. I shall do exactly the same every day, for twenty days. It will not bore me. And I will grow bigger, but not as gross as I would if I didn’t pass by those pastries, with their tempting fillings of cherry jam, or apricots, perhaps a pecan or two and some maple syrup.

No! Get thee behind me, Satan!

I’d forgotten, on Sunday I have to start work at 0600. I will miss breakfast. I made need counselling.

I haven't got any images of routines or breakfasts handy, so instead here are some silver shoes, UK size 3, and obviously not mine.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pink Nut

It is time I veered off on to another course, away from the swirling maelstrom of bureaucratic idiocy; it has exhausted me and this current burst of loquacity is at risk of withering away.

But whither?

Stuck as I am in a TV studio all day, I’m short of opportunities for image-making. Poker players, in general, are a pasty-faced, unprepossessing lot, spending far too much time indoors, eating poor food – ah, that sounds just like me at the moment. They don't make good subjects for my camera.

On the other hand, coconuts do, especially if someone has taken the trouble to slice the tops off and fill them with some sort of pink gunk. Just place empty vessel on a pristine beach and await arrival of photographer. Absolutely irresistible to anyone whose usual diet of things on sand is seaweed, pebbles, driftwood and the detritus of modern life.

As usual I got my trouser knees wet (wearing jeans, not shorts, you see. I was off to work later and no gentleman goes to work in shorts, unless they’re a lifeguard - whatever country they live in!).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Back on the Soapbox

When I was about nine or ten, I wrecked my Mum's bike. At the time there was a craze for attaching bits of cardboard to the front and rear forks so that they got flipped by the spokes going round, making a very satisfying noise; offcuts from Kellogg's Cornflake packets were favourite. The day of the incident, I was wearing sandals - yes, I know, but we all did back then, along with short trousers; fortunately the trainer had not yet been invented. As I rode along it occurred to me that I might get the same sort of noise if I gently poked the front of my sandal into the spokes of the front wheel. Seconds later, I was lying on a gritty road surrounded by the mangled remains of my Mum's pride and joy. I was bloody, bruised and apprehensive; I could here the words already - "Just you wait until your Dad gets home!"

I learned something that day, to do with respecting other's property (my Mum still mentions it fifty years later), and to do with sandals; they're not a substitute for cardboard. I also learned that falling off a bike hurts; the next time I did it, the injuries were so traumatic that I fainted the next day during school assembly, the only time I've ever passed out. Since then I've fallen off several times, once as recently as two years ago when I went into a bramble hedge. Riding a bike is risky, whatever your age, but think of what pleasure it gives. Why should we, or the petty officials who blight our lives, deny ourselves, or our children, the elements of risk that are concomitant with the fulfillment of a life richly lived?

I'm aware that this is a hobby horse of mine and I'm relieved that, in the UK at least, we are finally waking up to the damage we inflict on society by over-regulation, particularly in areas of health and safety. My concern is that it is too late; the bureaucracy is entrenched and, due to the very regulations they enforce, we will not be able to winkle them out of their funk-holes with anything pointed, mildly corrosive or fattening.

I haven't got any bicycle images handy so I'll have to make do with this trip hazard to illustrate today's theme. Obviously if you avoid coming a cropper on the post, the nasty disease-carrying seagulls will get you. You will never win.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Shadow of a Bridge

I apologise for the recent outpouring of vitriol but I find it hard not to comment on the excessive obsession of bureaucracy with Health & Safety - in the long term, unless checked, these petty tyrants will destroy our societies. The human race can achieve nothing without taking risks. A child who has grown up in a protective cocoon will be floored by the first unforeseen hazard it encounters; it will have never fallen out of a swing, been bitten by a wasp, spoken to someone it doesn't know, discovered the pitfalls of life for itself. The child will be totally unprepared.

I stepped over a low wall to get this photograph. It took me closer to the river bank but I was never in danger - I was on a solid, horizontal, non-slippery surface. I did not have a safety line, nor a life-jacket, nor a hard-hat. I was a naughty boy. It felt good.

Bridges make interesting images. This one crosses the River Lee to the gas works that so fascinate me. Those pipes and girders cry out to be intimately caressed by my wide-angle lens but I still haven't found a way to get close to them; a tall fence and serious security wire stopped me using the bridge.

I was attracted by the shadows, the strong one across the water and the pointed one running off upstream. Low, winter sunlight made them possible, a wafting sheet of pale yellow spreading across the Docklands of London. It was gorgeous.

Then I made my way back the the studio, ate an instant meal from Tesco's and settled down for an evening of unremitting boredom.

You Can't Be Serious 2!

According to the paper, a woman has now been charged with initiating a bomb hoax on the oil rig.

No news as yet as to whether the management have been charged with the more serious crime of listening to her in the first place - I can think of 'wasting police time' at the very least.

Monday, February 11, 2008

You Can't Be Serious!

A woman had a dream about a bomb on an oil rig installation off the Scottish coast - I'll just emphasise that - a dream. As a result the management evacuated 161 employees and brought in up to a dozen RAF and civilian helicopters. Total cost of the operation was about £500,000.

Those of us who have dreams usually have the good sense to keep them to ourselves. What is so totally unbelievable is the management's reaction. I quote - "We are very relieved that this turned out to be a false alarm, but obviously had to treat it seriously".

Obviously? It was a DREAM, stupid! Yet one more example of the extreme over-reaction to anything to do with health, safety or terrorism in our risk-averse, cotton-wool encased society.

(Incidentally, as part of my job I used to have to deal with bomb warnings and with the activities of the IRA and Welsh Nationalists in the 80s and 90s, they were not infrequent. The procedure was to only accept information from a reliable source. At no time, as far as I can remember, did I get any input from someone recently awakened from the land of Nod by the effects of an over-indulgence in vintage Cheddar cheese).

Epic Epping

Epping Forest is the largest open space in the London area, a richly wooded swathe of countryside wrested from the clutches of land-grabbing developers by Acts of Parliament in 1878. Despite its proximity to some of the grimmer areas of the city (apparently it's a favourite dumping ground for the victims of east London gangs and the highwayman, Dick Turpin, had a hideout there), it can generate scenes of great beauty .

I caught this image this morning as I was taking a short-cut between the M25 and the M11 (I know, too much detail). An irresistible sun-through-mist opportunity presented itself and, just for once, there was somewhere to park the car without screeching brakes and hooting horns. Obviously I was wearing the wrong shoes for muddy tracks but art triumphed once again over practicality.

Incidentally the locals maintain several ancient rights, including that to collect "one faggot of dead or driftwood" per day per adult resident. The ability of poor and down-trodden lesser mortals to benefit from the largesse of nature has always been restricted; one of my ancestors, Selena Lander, was arrested in Cranham Woods for taking 'green' timber rather than dead. The magistrate dismissed the case when the constable failed to produce the evidence. Keeping warm in a damp, labourer's cottage in winter must have been a daunting task in Victorian times, as it still is today for those marginalised by society or their own actions.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Woman in Red

The weather here in the UK is magnificent and that's not a term I use lightly; frosty mornings followed by crisp, warm, sunny days. Spring has sprung and the wildlife is mighty confused. I am, of course, working inside a very large, dark room and so it's all passing me by.

My only taste of this unseasonal bounty is the lovely, misty view I get across the wasteland of the Olympics construction site to the skyscrapers of London's docklands as I make my way into work. I'd like to show you a suitable image but stopping on a flyover on the A12 is not the action of a sane man, or even one, like myself, whose nuts and bolts may be slackening off a little.

On a similar day last year, Pixie ventured out onto the pier at Whitby in Yorkshire. It's fair to say that she is not always a willing model, as witnessed by the look of suffering on her face. I can tell that my quest for the perfect reflection shot is not be being favourably received. Perhaps she was hungry or, judging by the bags she's carrying, eager to renew her assault on the charity shops.

As is so often the case, the only way I could get that picture with Pixie centred in the puddle was to hang in mid-air just off the pier, the North Sea boiling away under my feet.

It's a technique I've not quite mastered as yet.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Image-making on hallowed ground again, as sure a sign of winter as the absence of swallows or the arrival of Easter eggs in the shops before Christmas. I am driven into the only public spaces with photographic potential on a cold day.

Prostrating myself in front of altars has not formed part of my plan-for-life but there's a first time for every thing. The carpet was nice and clean and I needed a direct view of the subject rather than relying on balancing the camera upside down on my foot on the end of a monopod.

For ecclesiastiophiles, the church is St Laurence, Ludlow, Shropshire, essentially Norman with Victorian restoration. It is another of the great English parish churches built off the backs of sheep.

And now, strangely, I can think of nothing controversial to say, or, for that matter, do, unless starting a sentence with the word 'and' counts. But, (which is a word regarded with similar malevolence by the sentence police as 'and' when it comes to opening up a fresh line), I should try to think of something.


No, peace and contentment.

Have a nice day.

(And don't get me started on 'nice'. My English teacher, Miss Hurst, exhorted us to find an alternative in all circumstances. 'Nice' had no place in her version of the language of Middle England.

And she was right. It's a nasty word, redolent in laziness of tongue. Put it away, boy.

And see me after school).

Monday, February 04, 2008

Dingle or Thicket?

I’ve always had a bit of a thing about photographing nature ravaged by industry or, for that matter, industry ravaged by nature. This old gas works in east London has attracted my attention before but now, with the trees in winter plumage, I thought it worth another look.

It is not that simple though. The site is on the opposite side of a tidal river and an electrified railway line. Despite my well-built, over-generous height of 6’ 3 ¾”, I’m not tall enough. Serious, industrial-grade fencing stops me from getting closer and composing a clean shot.

I could probably get a better angle from a riverside towpath outside the compound I’m working in. I won’t bother to try, though; in this area anyone carrying a camera would be seen as easy meat, a quick source of readies for the next fix or a few more bottles of amber nectar. So I’m stuck with clambering up and down steps and odd bits of equipment in the somewhat futile attempt to make something of what is, to me, a rich source of imagery.

In my business, a little bit of foliage in the foreground is known as ‘dingle’; it adds interest, leading the eye to the main subject. Usually there would be a lot less of it than shown above. Perhaps this array of bare branches would be better called ‘thicket’.

Incidentally, it may appear a bit pedantic, and even pretentious, that I’ve insisted on specifying my height to the nearest ¼ inch. It’s just that I had my height measured recently for the first time in about thirty-five years. To my surprise, I’m ¾” taller than I was in my twenties. I thought I’d better make the most of it before I begin shrinking into senility.