Happy Not Dead Yet Day

When does Happy Birthday become Happy Not Dead Yet Day?  Is there a cut-off age for birthdays, or should men become like women and become just 21 again?  Are birthdays just for children?    Why am I talking about this anyway?  Today is the anniversary of my birth.  I was born on this day in 1972, 51 years ago.  When this article will be published my birthday will have passed so don’t try finding my date of birth.  Some people love their birthdays and enjoy them and just go for it.  I, surprise, surprise, am not one of those dreadful people.  Noooo, I am just in a foul mood, and despite receiving happy birthday wishes with good grace, I remain, under my breath, just an angry old man.  What is wrong with me?!

It could be because my birthday isn’t even being celebrated on the day itself.  Well, it is but it isn’t.  I expressed the wish for a beer and pizza night.  So, of course, I’m the one who has to go out and get the effing pizzas and get the beer.  I’m not even allowed to choose the effing film, because I am a sucker for a Rom-Com, and my family members aren’t so we won’t be watching one.  My daughter chose a birthday cake, a chocolate cake, which I am rather partial to, but it has that sickly sweet icing on it and is a unicorn rainbow cake.  She’s basically taking the piss out of me.  This isn’t me being paranoid since she actually admitted everything!  I’m even more pissed off with myself as I should be grateful instead of being selfish.  Damn you conscience!!!

I don’t like being the centre of attention and feel very uneasy about it.  If any bugger sings happy birthday to me, I just want the ground to swallow me up.

There were actually people last year for my fiftieth who actually came around for a party!  The utter gall of it!  Apparently “they,” say you have to be made a fuss of and receive presents.  It was awful.  You have to sit there pretending to have a good time.  The thing was a disaster and I still have a wine stain on my favourite shirt!

I told my son last night how I generally love my fellow man, and he promptly replied with the word bollocks!   You hate people!  I don’t necessarily hate them, and I do like them, far away, and on my own terms, i.e. not in my house wishing me a happy birthday!

How can I be like this??  I have no idea.  I remember my childhood birthdays with great affection, and I can’t blame booze for giving me just partial recollections.  My mother always went the extra mile, and I remember various styled chocolate cakes with great affection.  Even when I was at boarding school birthdays were fun.  I would get some cards, and Thornton toffees from my grandmother, and Matron would come round asking me if I wanted a chocolate cake or fruit cake?  I generally asked if I could have a chocolate cake, and at the end of supper, the cake would be brought out of the kitchen and divided up amongst the whole school which was a great way to do things. 

Even when I came back into the state school system, you would get the bumps which never really hurt, and one would have to pretend to struggle and just take it, but it was a laugh.  Now it would be classed as bullying and possibly assault!  How times have changed!

So, thank you to all who have wished me a happy birthday. Thank you for not picking me up by my hands and feet and not kicking me!  Thank you for taking a moment to have a thought for me on my special day.  I really do love you all!

Ode to January

January, with its terrible reputation as being the shittiest month of the year, is 11 days from being over.  Some will say good riddance to bad rubbish, others won’t care, and others will be happy it’s just over and done with. Does Blue Monday ring any bells, even alarm bells?  The concept of Blue Monday (the third Monday in January) appeared in 2005 during a press release from British travel firm, Sky Travel during a publicity stunt.  A formula described this specific Monday as being the gloomiest of the year.

How could this reputation come about?  Could it be that so many seem to start this month with a hangover?  Or at best, with a dry mouth, feeling slightly tired, and having a slightly delicate tummy?  Is the fact of going back to work after the celebrations of Christmas, and suffering the anti-climax that is January a cause?  A jolt back into a reality that we feel we no longer desire?  Is it because we feel guilty about making so many resolutions to better our lives and start anew as the new year begins, and then feel dreadful when we fail after just a couple of days?  Could the answer just be drinking slightly less and not giving a shit about the new year, and therefore an eventual new me?

Mind you, Dear Reader, the weather is usually not the best that one could wish for, but if it were 20°C outside with warm sunshine, then the climate change people would be up in arms.  Whatever we say, we will, somehow, somewhere, annoy a climate activist.  Am I a follower of Saint Greta?  Not really.  Am I just boorish and refuse to sort my rubbish?  No, but I’m not convinced either.  I have problems believing that if I don’t put an apple core in the compost bin that I will go to ecological hell for all eternity…

However, as you will see from the photos in the traditional end of the article gallery, there is light and shade and therefore sunlight, therefore sun…  In the ones taken after sundown, you won’t be able to see the sun, not because of a climate crisis but because the sun tends not to shine during the night.  Mind-blowing, I know.

So, after dissing January, I feel the need to defend it. Within 11 days I will have had my 51st birthday and will celebrate not being dead yet, and being the oldest that I have ever been!  Wouldn’t it be ironic if I snuffed it before then?  It would certainly be a shame.  With my children and wife, the plan is to have a pizza, film, and beer night!  Not the done thing to miss that!  During childhood, I would have the first of a long line of birthdays throughout the year.  Sometimes for Christmas, I would have a “big” present and be told that it was also for my birthday.  I don’t blame my parents at all, and this is not part of my childhood trauma.  I have a son who was born just before Christmas and find myself doing the same thing. He’s no more messed up than I am.  Differently messed up, but not because of that.  I have people in my family born on Christmas Day, some on Boxing Day, and someone born on the 27th of December.  Ah well, it could happen to anyone, and they all seem perfectly imperfect, just like me!

Welcome to 2023

First of all, Dear Reader, I wish you a very Happy New Year for 2023! May it be better than 2022 and may it bring you everything you need to continue your life journey. At this time of year, we all tend to look forwards and backwards, and it seems fitting that Janus, the two-faced god, gave his name to January. We look backwards to the preceding year to see what we can learn from our experiences, good or bad, and forwards to the new year with hope and an expectation of change.

2022 saw my first contact with Covid back in March. Not the most pleasant of experiences, and I think I gave it a 1 out of 5 rating… It saw the war in Ukraine, and our fears of Russia going mad and destroying the entire continent. This, despite prayer, seems to still be the case, except at the cost of so much human life. Roe v Wade was overturned in the US and hope was given to the Pro-life movement. It saw my first trip back to the UK since 2019, and it was wonderful being back and seeing family after such a long time. In the final days of the year, it saw the death of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most misunderstood popes of these times. On a personal note, we were so worried about Molly, our family dog, and feared losing her in December. Fortunately, she is a lot better but it was a close shave. It might sound silly to some, how one can get so emotionally attached to an animal, but I swear I was writing her obituary in my mind and crying about the whole thing.

For Christmas this year, I am happy to report a total lack of drama, and on the contrary, think the whole shebang went off wonderfully. This was in part thanks to the visit of two of my nieces who came to spend this special time with us. One of the nieces even came to midnight mass with me and the next day, Christmas Day, the six of us were together for mass which just shows how special Christmas is. It just shows how the simplest of things can have so much meaning and how they can bring us such joy.

I was on holiday the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas. It would appear that I might have even lost a tiny amount of weight, and some of my t-shirts seem to be less tight. It might not last, but for the moment I’m just going to enjoy it.

It was just so special to have time with my family and have them around me. I took the girls into Nantes to share some of my world with them, and believe it or not, I had a camera with me, so I might just have to share some of my world with you, too! The weather was abysmal, but on the last day before the return to work, the sun was out and I went into town to have some special Ian time, and just wonder the streets between confession, and missing the pub being open. It is likely, however, that I pop in this weekend to wish my friends a Happy New Year too!

December

As a musician, even one as not as implicated as me, December can be a busy time and has proven itself to live up to its reputation of loads of concerts to finish the year, and carolling. For the moment, I have 3 out of 5 weekends taken up with playing the horn in one form or another. 

At the end of the Season in the summer of 2022, I decided not to follow the new direction taken by the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet.  Not just out of loyalty to the outgoing conductor who, since 2009, become a close friend, but sometimes you just need a change of scene.  I first thought of just having a complete break from music, which is a rash decision but one I have taken in the past.  Friends were worried that I would stop music altogether, which would not only be a shame but also a waste of talent or work that I have put into learning the horn over the years.  I had lost the love of performing, and rehearsals had become more a way of spending time on something I knew how to do but with less and less pleasure.

I was therefore on the lookout for a new ensemble that needed a horn player.  When I was in the Cholet Conservatoire Symphony orchestra, I made friends who talked about this relatively new orchestra based just South of Nantes.  You go to Facebook and see their page and try to make a choice.  I made a choice.  I am now the fourth horn in the Symphonique des Bords de Loire. 

So what does this have to do with being busy in December?  I’ll tell you.  With concerts and rehearsals, I have been playing every weekend since the 26th of November.  I am now 50, have taken up napping in a big way, and sleeping, or at least trying to sleep as a secondary calling.  All this music is creating an enormous conflict of interest between music and my new vocation, napping.  I have tried automatic pilot, but people seem to cotton on and even dare come up to me and try to talk to me when my body is still on, but the brain is experiencing a temporary outage.  The sheer audacity of it all!   

Last weekend, I did a paid gig for the Brass Quintet Arabesque, replacing my old horn teacher, the Grand, the mother Great, and all-around good egg, Jerome Percher who teaches the horn in the Conservatoire In Angers!  He is also a massive football fan and maybe the evening match between our two splendid countries was just too much for him.  Little did we know that Harry Kane would be less fortunate than us. 

The idea was to have a brass band style quintet with two cornets, one tenor horn, one euphonium, and one tuba.  Similar to what you might see the Salvation Army playing when they’re out around this time.  We would play three sets of Christmas carols to add some ambience to the Christmas Market in La Roche Sur Yon, which is the administrative capital of the Vendée.  It was a beautifully sunny day, but a tad cold.  Yes, brass monkey weather!

Now I don’t technically play the tenor horn, but had studied the fingerings to know how to approach the instrument and not look too silly.  It’s also much lighter than the more common, yet beautiful instrument, which is the French Horn.

Everything that morning seemed to go wrong.  I was already nervous as I didn’t want to let the lads down and my heart was going like the clappers.  Then slightly late getting out of the house, having to get the windscreen de-iced, as it was -5°C, which is chilly.  Then the car pretended to not want to start.  Ha ha ha, it was the car just trying to play a trick on me.  The roads had been salted so fine, and I was headed down to La Roche. I had misread the text message with the meeting times and thought I was late.  As it turned out, I wasn’t, and our lady answered my prayer for a parking space not too far from the meeting point.  I, of course, couldn’t find my colleagues when I arrived in the square and then suddenly I saw Hervé and felt a lot less anxious!

We played our three sets, and the only upset was whilst playing I saw three ships.  I think we all managed to sink them! 

The organisers had prepared us some hot pretzels and some mulled wine, which just hit the spot and told us where the restaurant was, where we were to have lunch.  The five of us needed feeding!  Starters and main, or main and dessert, with drinks.  I could get used to this.  We ate, joked, finished our beer, and said see you later at Hervé’s house for the Soirée to celebrate Jean Michel’s birthday in a French and very fitting way!

I just had to get to Nantes, for confession, to get a little something for my evening’s host, wife, and daughter.  Just enough time left over to pick up my wife, and get ourselves to our evening.

Jean Michel has a bit of a reputation as an epicurean, and not only a lover of fine cuisine, but a very accomplished chef!  Upon arrival, we went to say hello to everyone, and were told to leave the kitchen, which is exactly what we did!  The aforementioned legend that is Monsieur Percher was there with his lovely wife, and it was such a pleasure introducing each other to our respective spouses.  The pre-meal beers were served and then out of nowhere appeared a magnum of very nice champagne, which was the first of quite a few exquisite bottles, which complemented Jean Michel’s cooking so well.  We’re now in happy as a pig in shit territory. 

It was a lovely evening and with the wine, I was beginning to feel a little tired, which is better than being a little tiring.  It was time for little Ian to go beddy byes…  My new vocation in life.  Fortunately, my wife is a professional driver, stone-cold sober, and able to drive us home. 

The next day was spent gently getting out of bed, and trying not to let on that I might be a little tired.  By Sunday evening I was ready to go to mass, and who would I see, but Hervé and his family.  It’s nice not being at mass on your own and was just the surprise I need to finish the evening off on a high point.  That and going to the pub afterwards.

Next Saturday, I will play the tenor horn with the Tuba Class with Hervé as their teacher.  The weekend after will be a lot quieter.  Then three days in the factory before breaking up for two weeks holiday for Christmas, which, Dear Reader, will be a completely different story. 

Until then, I wish each and every one of you a very happy, peaceful, and above all drama-free Christmas!

La Générale

La Générale refers to a French dress rehearsal before a show or concert but with no senior military officer in sight.  But why am I talking about a rehearsal?  Well, as some of you Dear Readers might know that for my many sins, I am a horn player and musician.  Both can happen simultaneously, despite our reputation! From February 2009 until July 2022, I played the horn for the Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet in France.  Some people had cottoned onto the fact that I dabble in this photography lark, and since they had just changed musical direction, they would like me to take some photos of the new director in front of the band.  I of course said yes, and following the lessons learnt during the American Concert, I was feeling quietly confident.

The musicians were asked to attend the Générale in concert dress, all looking very smart.  This would allow me to wander around the stage freely, not annoy the audience, and have complete freedom to try to take a couple of photos.  What a good idea!  It also meant that I had two hours to get the job done in a satisfactory manner.

I had the Canon 6D Mark II with the 85mm F1.8 Canon lens, and the trusty and also favourite, almost to the point of it being a fetish, Fuji Film X100F, with the telephoto adapter which transforms the lens into a 50mm F 2.0 lens.  I could take off that adapter and have 35mm equivalent lens.  To the uninitiated, you will think I have just spouted out a huge amount of gobbledy gook, but I it actually means something to me.  It was out of the question that I would miss 60 photos like last time.  A lesson most definitely learnt!

Sooooo…  I wandered around taking photos and trying to make sure I didn’t just photograph the horn section.  Nobody couldn’t accuse me of favouritism;  except that I had treated some images first for friends and had posted them on Facebook.  Two of those friends were, of course, in the Horn Section.  Ooooops a daisy.  Ah well.  I did, however, tell everyone that these were merely a foretaste of things to come, and I realised I had actually been quite democratic and represented most of the musicians.  Out of the 400 odd photos taken, 124 were presented to the musicians in a private Google Gallery.  Not bad for two hours of shooting.    You will see a small selection of those photos at the end of this article.

As a thank you, I was invited to the concert the next day.  After a Barber appointment to tame my overgrown beard and a visit to the pub just to say hello to the staff and friends, I headed off to Cholet for my Rendez Vous with music listening.  Keep music live etc!! 

Naturally, with the change of conductor, there will be a change of musical direction.  Each person had to get used to the novelty, and the new conductor has to make his mark on the orchestra, which is perfectly normal.  I had heard all kinds of things and wanted to make up my own mind.  The concert theme was “Heart of the Forest.”  I was determined to take it all in with no preconceived ideas.  Just enjoy the bloody music, you fool.  So I sat down and did just that.  The sound at the back of the auditorium differed completely from what I had heard the night before.  As a musician, we hear the concert from where we are on the stage.  The audience really hears that difference.  I was blown away and just sat there enjoying watching my friends create music.

With time, the orchestra and the new musical director will get to know each other, and I look forward to seeing their next concert and seeing the outcome of this new relationship in future concerts, and it goes without saying that I wish them the very best of success for the future! 

Now for the photos, and not just the horn section…

The American Concert

“Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.”  I, like most people, used to think that this was pure Shakespeare.  Well, it is not; it is actually from the play “The Mourning Bride” by William Cosgrove, which was first performed in 1697.  No, I cannot be having you say that you learn nothing from this blog, right?

So you get a free fact of the day.  First, I don’t have breasts, but man boobs, and second, they’re not savage either!  Trust me! As suggested in the title, this article is about a concert, and surprisingly the music was American, hence the name of the American Concert.  Mind-blowing I know, right?

Now I can hear you saying this blog is about this man’s depression and photography, and possibly tea and cake.  Give me some time and I’ll get there.  My mental health is on the melancholic side due to rain, and teenagers at home, but it will get better. 

My friend Hervé, who has already starred twice on my blog, is part of a Brass Quintet called Arabesque who have only been mentioned once on my blog.  This lovely chap asked if I wanted to take some photos of their American Concert and I, of course, said yes, that would be great fun! They are revamping their website and wanted some photographs for it and after the success of the last shoot I did for them, they asked me to come back. 

This would be the first concert I would photograph with stage lights.  And when you photograph a concert, you have to get it right and not mess it up.  I, of course, messed quite a few photos up, but it’s all a learning process, isn’t it?  “They” said to use your fastest lenses, which is photographer lingo saying that you need the lens to have the widest opening possible to let in the most light and still have a relatively quick shutter speed.  “They” seem to give out some good advice so I took my very fastest lens, an f1.2 35mm lens for my XT2 and because it has focus peaking, you can’t go wrong.  That’s what “they” said.  I proved “them” wrong and wasted about 60 photos.  That’ll teach me to listen to “them!”  

Fortunately, I had my Plan B (Canon 6D MarkII) with me, which worked a treat.  What did I learn from this precarious situation?  First, I was the only one who knew that I had messed up.  Second, the importance of having a Plan B.  Thirdly, using both cameras and thus still getting the shot, and fourthly that using a manual lens usually provides no worries during the day, but autofocus can be quite a good friend, especially for a concert.  No need to be a purist.  You can save that for later.  What you need is to get the job done.  So leave your pride at home and get some decent photos. 

The entire show was splendid, and the music was first class too!  If you have time to see Arabesque in concert you’ll definitely enjoy yourself, and you’ll be supporting live music and a great bunch of guys too!  I would also like to thank them for the restaurant meal after the concert.  What a delightful way to spend an evening!