Le Concert

As I said a couple of articles ago, for my many sins, I am a musician.  In 15 minutes I will be on stage playing in a concert.   It’s almost an other-worldly experience.  Random thoughts wondering through my mind.  I know I turned off the iron, because I did my ironing yesterday.  But on the 45 drive minute drive to the theatre I was just taking in the landscape and the colours of Autumn, telling myself that “that” would make a nice photo. Capturing the autmnal colours of the trees, seeing those that were in all their warm coloured glory.  Wondering if I should use a 50 or the 16-35mm zoom.  Well in that very instant the answer wasn’t a problem.  I was driving and not taking photos.  Michael Ball was on Radio 2 talking about Children in Need and giving praise to those fund raisers that keep the UK going.  I was there and yet so far away in my mind. 

I was sat down on stage at the correct time, secretly hating all those who were there before me making me seem late. 8 minutes to show time.  Thoughts in my mind telling not to screw up such amd such a passage.  And thinking that in Mars I start the concert with a bass horn solo.  So no pressure then.  Once it’s  over I’ll be in the action and not thinking anymore.  Looking forward to the horn section solo in Jupiter.  No need to play too loud, but on the contrary, just be present with a large sound and enjoy the shit out of it!

Time to go and I’ll  finish after the concert or maybe at half time.  I don’t  know yet…  You’ll just have to see.  It’ll be a surprise. 

Well that could have been worse.    I mean it wasn’t disastrous, but little details could have made it better.  Lack of concentration maybe.  It’s  a long hard slog after all. 

I’m not saying that I feel like death, but….  I tried to die quietly which is all anyone can ask of you.  The cold seems to have to descended onto my chest, so thankfully no sneezes but quite a few coughs.  Each one on a down beat of course…

Next up is the de Meij Symphony.  Let’s  hope we give proper tribute to the composer that introduced us to the inner workings of his composition.  After that home time, and if I have the energy I might develop some film.   I have a backlog of films to get through. Just arrived in the car and the choise seems to be pub, or home…. Decisions, decisions

It ended up being home. See you next time for an other enthralling episode…..

Rest and Recuperation

Rest and recuperation, or R and R for those who know, is so underrated in these modern times where being busy is seen as being a virtue and shows how very productive you are, and yet it is vital and something we so badly need.  Yes, I’m talking to you burnt out millennials who are just seeking validation by being so into your careers to replace the love you didn’t get from your baby boomer parents.   You’re still not as screwed up as Generation X who are experts in coping with mental health. When we were kids, we just didn’t talk about it and it has led to a generation of very “interesting” people.

Anyway.  Rest and Recuperation. The clue is in the name.  For those who don’t know me, I’ll bring you up to date.  I suffer from Arthritis in my right knee and have been limping for what seems like forever, and it hurts like buggery.  I gradually have got into CBD oil in a big way and enjoy the relief it gives me, but it’s just enough to keep me vertical.  I know I’m rambling, but I want to give you a little context, or even a large context, for the rest of this article.  I also live in France and we enjoy quite a few public holidays, a majority of them being religious holidays, which I always found a tad strange for such a fiercely secular country where “laïcité” is the national religion!  So the 1st of November is All Saints’ Day, where the French will go to the cemeteries to put chrysanthemums on the gravesides of the dead, and remember what the people were like and reflect on their own personal histories.  Note to self, if I ever get flowers for my mother in law, it might be wise to get anything but Chysantemums…  I might be sending the wrong message otherwise.  In the UK, they’re a flower like any other but here they’re just for dead people.  Halloween isn’t as big over here as it is In Ireland, the UK, or the US, but Gen Z have worked out the trick or treat thing and are well into it!  So it might decide to stay after all.  In the John Mc Byrne pub, they had a right old knees up and were all dressed up!  I decided to decline.  I was resting.

Now we’re getting to the crux of this article.  As of Thursday, I have been suffering from a cold.  That’s bollocks, I’ve been dying of Man-Flu.   My nose turned into a water fountain, and for two days the tap was open and I felt awful.  Thank you brothers for your solidarity and good wishes.  But I was able to get into the car and get to work and therefore not dead, and able to work, even off my head.  Fortunately, I wasn’t working on Friday afternoon, so, was free.  My wife had left on Thursday morning to go and see her mother, minus the chrysanthemums, and would only be coming back on Sunday.  Feeling like death I thought the best thing was just to go to bed and stay there for as long as possible.  Fortune shone on me again, and there was no Friday night OHC rehearsal (insert plug here for our concert “the Planets” on the 14th of November, tickets still available here, and don’t forget the comfy seats…)  I had my dog sleeping next to me in her basket on my bedroom floor.  I would go down from time to let her do her two p’s.  Pees and poops. 

I had a call from my son asking if he could come home with a couple of friends for a soirée.  I agreed on the basis that there would be no noise and they would leave the living room (which was to become the drinking room) spotless the next day.  The friends would kip on the pull out sofa in the living room.  At least nobody would have to drive.  I drifted between sleep, going to the loo in the middle of the night, and then back to sleep.  I had a Vicks vapour stick, and by then my nose was leaking less and was staying relatively dry.  I took the dog down at 10 am to let her do her business and saw two of my son’s friends asleep on my sofa and I could not get into the kitchen.  The huge sofa bed takes up quite a lot of space.  It’s always delicate when people are staying over…

I went back down at 3pm feeling a little peckish, but they were still out for the count.  There was only one thing to do.  Get in the car, and go to MacDonalds to get my lunch.  I got back and saw my son coming out of his room looking somewhat delicate, he asked where I had been and explained why, and he just said, oh yeah and went back into his room.  I must have gone back to sleep because when I woke up they had taken the dog with them but the living room was spotless!  #DadGoals!

My wife and daughter arrived on Sunday at what seemed like mid-afternoon, and so it passed.  The house was no longer quiet.  I still rested though.  My daughter went out with some of her friends in the quest for sweets, and my wife filled up a whole bowl with sweets for children coming ringing at the door.  I was shouted at for eating some of those sweets but the return to childhood was immediate.  Emotion and food isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Monday came around and I was worried about going to work, and not feeling up to it.

Monday came and went, and on Monday evening that I wasn’t limping and hadn’t taken any CBD.  Maybe Rest and Recuperation go together

The Phenomenon that is Johan de Meij

For my many sins, I am a musician and not just a depressive dude with a camera.  I play the French horn.  Some might even say that I’m a French French horn player, without being corrected by my autocorrect.  So this music thing…  I play the horn in a Wind Band, in Cholet, in the Anjou region of France, with good food and wine.  I wonder what decided me to join them…  There are a series of concerts every year with each concert having a given theme.  This next concert’s theme is about the planets.  The programme will be The Planets, by Gustav Holst, and the third Symphony by Johan de Meij, Planet Earth.

If you want to read Wikipedia to tell you about the Planets by Holst, then you can click here.  I will now give you my version of events.  Gustav Holst, a man with Swedish, German, and Latvian origins but born in England, wrote a series of pieces that made up the Planets Suite.  His ancestors must have settled before Brexit!  This was ground-breaking stuff, akin to Stravinsky and his Rites of Spring.  However, this program is about the planets, so we’ll leave Spring to Igor, the composer and not Frankenstein’s whacky assistant.  As any trailblazer will tell, they just weren’t ready for it man, and that it was ahead of its time, which to be fair, it was.  He started writing the suite in 1914, and the first movement was “Mars, the bringer of War.”  Quite eerie when you think about what happened in 1914.  Composing finished in 1917 and the première took place at Queen’s Hall, on the 29th of September, in 1918.  There were seven movements, and when I was a child, I always wondered why the planet Pluto wasn’t included.  What did they have against Mickey Mouse’s dog???  Then I learnt Pluto was only discovered in 1930.  The poor planet was demoted in 2006 and is no longer considered a planet but is still a heavenly body…  Just like Yours Truly!

This music that first disturbed people, has, over time, and thanks to John Williams, become the music of space and the stars, wars or no wars.  Some have accused John Williams of nicking everything in the first movement, Mars the bringer of War, and using it to compose the music to Star Wars.  I’m not saying he nicked it, but… A nice American gentleman, Charles Cornell, has exposed his point of view in a YouTube video 

When you look at it like that you can get where those people are coming from.  But in a completely nonpartial way, I couldn’t give a flying fart.  Both composers’ music is wonderful, and I think one could call it more homage than pilfering. Mind you, there are certain similarities.

When you look at the Planets Suite, you notice the Earth isn’t mentioned.  One person that noticed this and who could do something about it, is a certain Johan de Meij, whose name is engraved on a plaque on our rehearsal room in the Cholet Conservatoire.  A Dutch trombonist, he moved into composition, arranging, and conducting.  In the Wind Band world, he is very well known and respected.  Nearly all of us will have played some of his music at one stage in our careers.

The third Symphony takes us from the beginning of our Lonely Planet, Planet Earth, ending with Mother Earth.  It isn’t as much a narrative, but a more auditory exposition of ideas in an abstract form.  A soundtrack with electronic sounds helps the symphony become one musical experience as opposed to the classical three separate movements.  Planet Earth really is a continuation of Holst’s Planets.

It’s a whopping significant piece and a joy to play despite a few difficulties to challenge the horn player.  We were very fortunate to have Johan come and visit us, not just to say Hallo, but to explain the piece to us, conduct us and rehearse us.  The poor lad was full of cold, but shared his wisdom and experience with us, which I’m sure will prove itself invaluable for our performance on the 14th of November in the Théâtre Saint Louis in Cholet.  We worked on aural skills listening to the chords and listening to them to adjust the tuning and seeing where we fit into those chords. It might be an insignificant detail to you, but the seats are very comfortable and the acoustics are pretty damned good too!.  Holst couldn’t make it. Must have had something else in his diary for that weekend! 

The Contradictory Contradiction

I have a friend here who said that I am always contradicting myself and that it isn’t logical and how can I say two things at the same time, and I replied that the two things, although contradictory in appearance, are both as true.  That person is a production of French education with philosophy as the subject that all French teenagers go through to learn how to think the way the Education Nationale tells them to think, under the guise of learning all about freethinking and critical thinking.  I, however, am a lot less French despite what some people might like to think, and I will think any blooming way I desire, with or without contradictions.

I’m not talking about my mental state, for once, but photography.  I love both digital photography and analogic photography.  I am bewildered by modern technology and could be classed as a geek, and yet the experience of using old technology that is obsolete for some gets me all excited as a small child waiting for Father Christmas, but being told by their mother to go to bed, otherwise, he won’t come.  It didn’t stop me from waking up at the crack of dawn, and I think my parents might have regretted the decision to buy me a guitar for Christmas and hearing me playing at some ungodly hour of the morning.  As a 49, fat middle-aged gentleman, I can understand them, but my 6 or 7-year-old self didn’t and couldn’t imagine the disturbance that I had caused them.

Oh, how times change!  While I’m on the nostalgia train going to the “good” old days, I have vivid memories of a drawer at my grandparents’ house, where my mother was brought up, and in whose room I would be staying.  Inside this drawer, many “old” things just fascinated me.  It could be my grandfather’s old plumbing ruler or golf tees.  It could be anything but it was an entrance into another world for me.  My grandmother’s kitchen, because at that time, my Grandfather wouldn’t be in the kitchen, was a place where everything was from the 1930s and it all just fitted together.   There was the Anderson shelter, which had been turned into a proper pantry, was a relic from the Second World War where they would have sheltered from German bombs falling on the town and trying to stop my Great Uncle’s shipyards from operating correctly.  My Great Aunt would drive around in an ambulance taking care of casualties.  Amazing people from an amazing time. 

What does this have to do with photography?  Not a huge amount, but is that a problem?  Oh yes, it tells you about my fascination for the old and very new.  I have “a number” of cameras, the eldest being from the 1940s and the newest from 2021, with nearly every decade being represented in-between the two dates.

So I was going somewhere with all this.  Ah yes, lately I seem to be getting back into film again.  In the last but one article, you may have seen the photos from the Mamiya, which is a relatively modern camera being from the early ’80s.  Well, this time, I’m still using a camera from the 1980s, the Pentax ME Super.  For once, I wasn’t using Ilford HP5, which is my “go-to” film.  No, I decided to be different and get out of my comfort zone, and use a new film.  I say new film, I mean Rollei has been around for donkey’s years, but this was a “new to me” film.  May I introduce you to Rollei RPX 100.  I never use 100ASA film, but was turned by Fomapan 100, which you can see in the photos from the Hangar à Bananes.  A fine-grain film, especially when you compare it to the grain from HP even when shot at box speed, let alone 800ASA or even 1600ASA.

The film was developed in ILFOSIL 3, and I thought it was great.  I tried in town and country and was thrilled.  The thing that pleased me the most was that it kept flat, which means a lot to somebody who has ever tried to scan film. The last time I bought a film I played wild cards, and it was also a lot cheaper than HP5 which is a very convincing argument.  I still dream of Kodak Portra 160, but it is getting more and more scarce, and therefore more expensive.  A beginning of the month kind of film.  Oh look at that, my pay has just gone in…

So yesterday evening I was scanning a film my son had shot on a 1960s Kodak camera, and thinking about how he has changed since 2016 when I picked up my Fuji XT2, a slightly more modern mirrorless digital camera. I hadn’t used a modern camera in quite a while and it almost felt foreign to me, and yet familiar at the same time. My fingers seemed to find the controls without looking very far, and it felt very natural.  Maybe my love of digital and analogue isn’t that contradictory after all?

Now it’s time to show you the results of the Rollei RPX 100.  I liked it and am happy I bought more than one roll.  The camera, as I think I said earlier, was the Pentax ME Super.

Facebook went down on me!

Hello Dear Reader, maybe you don’t know what Facebook is, or Instagram, or WhatsApp, but yesterday they went down on the entire world, but not in a sexy way. Facebook is the Face of Social Media, Instagram is the camera of Social Media, and WhatsApp is where we tell everyone what we are doing by private message.  Twitter was where we were all taking the piss out of the aforementioned Social Media outlets last night.

This is a big thing in an ultra-connected world.  At work I listen to the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2, and they spent 30 minutes talking about it.  It has featured on all the news bulletins that I have heard today.  This is a big thing!  So many of us have mobile phones, and I’m not talking about the indestructible Nokia phones, whose batteries are still working.   I’m talking about “smartphones” that are so smart that they have degrees in smartness from Smarty-pants University.  They are capable of so much more than the computers that sent men to the moon, and they fit into your pocket! 

Some people with depression and social anxiety called in to say how they depend on Social Media to have a manageable contact with the outside world, others who use it to advertise their small businesses to those of us scrolling through, and others of us who are addicted and can’t put our phones down, because of the dreaded FOMO, or fear of missing out.

Whilst at work, my mind can wander, and something that comes back regularly is the desire to go back to my prep-school and tell them what the world is like in 2021, or forty years from now.  Some of my masters were WW2 veterans, others were baby boomers, and some of them weren’t actually that mad, despite appearances.  I remember one Maths lesson where the teacher told us to find arithmetic patterns in our times tables.  I got three and had to find the pattern.  My first algorithm.  Now these algorithms are omnipresent and artificial intelligence is using them and running the world, especially on these platforms.  Think back to Brexit, or the 2016 American elections. 

Smug people came onto the programme saying how we had lost the power of conversation, or how come people just don’t pick up the phone.  Some talked about the wake-up call.  Others were talking about Gen Z, who have lost the power of communication.  However, there is nuance everywhere, which is something these platforms like us to forget.  I see people like my daughter, who is always on her phone, but she is conversing and communicating non-stop with her friends at school or a version of her tribe.  My son does the same thing.  They communicate differently.  I often wonder what my First Form Master, Fr Gerald, would make of it all.  Now we use emoticons to reply to some of our messages.  Have we gone back to using hieroglyphs?  Is that a problem?  They say a picture can be worth a thousand words. 

How did I manage?  Not too badly.  To begin with, I was worried that my Internet might not be working. But I soon found out what was happening.  It wasn’t much of a hinderance.  I still had my music on Amazon Music, and I was scanning negatives for my son.  They were from 2016, and he shocked to see how he looked just 5 years ago.  I think he used the word cringe.  I missed putting them on Facebook to share them with the rest of my French family.  Maybe Facebook has its uses after all, and shouldn’t the rule be able about moderation?  Use it by all means, but don’t let it become your master.  I’m still glad that they’re online again…

September

Hello Dear Reader.  I’m not talking about the song by Earth Wind and Fire, but the month.  At least it’s being an ear worm and I can hear you hear you singing it in your heads.  I’m talking about September, the month, the return.  We have accomplished our re-entry into our everyday lives, and the routine that was missing in August is back.  The days are slightly cooler and have become more agreeable.  Instead of 33°C, we are back down to 23°C.  The nights are slightly cooler too and we no longer need our fans on all night like we did in August. When it’s hot, some people are in their element.  I, however, am not one of those people.  When you’re cold, you can always put a jumper on, and have a cup of tea and go inside.  But as contradictory as I am, as one friend recently pointed out to me, I do enjoy sitting outside on a Summer’s eve having a beer or three…

I love the holidays that August is famous for, but the obligation to enjoy yourself every day during these days of relative freedom is a pain in the arse. I don’t want to be melancholic, but this forced enjoyment of a good time is too much for me.  Club Med would be a nightmare!  I like my routine back.  Back at work and happy to be there.  We still have our weekends and can still enjoy them.  The jumpers are still in storage, but you hear the word “mi-saison” as the announcer of a more bearable climate.  The French news has gone the rentrée clips to showing how our Dear President has not been as good at selling submarines as other countries that can offer different and possibly more desirable options…  The Voyages à Nantes is over, and we will look for those works of art that have become permanent.  You can see grapes in the supermarkets, and other more autumnal products.  Soon we’ll be talking about the wine harvest…  In the UK it will be words like “chilly” making their return to everyday usage.  The merits of a “nice cup of tea” which will warm you up will become an object of conversation once more.  Biscuits or cake?

My daughter was born in September and this week is her birthday.  She will be twelve going on thirty.  I think she should run for President, as she seems to know everything already.  Let her fix the country.  If people go on strike, she could always sulk in her room and go on her phone…  That’ll show them!  At least she takes the dog out for walks around the village.  As any doting gather, I think she’s brilliant and can be hilarious and despite hating and eye rolling at my dad jokes, she still seems to enjoy them.  She can also turn into a she-devil at any instant and I’m trying to work out whether this is traumatic for me or just making life a little more interesting than it once was.

Molly, I think I’ve introduced her to you, is now a deb at the grand old age of 10, and has made her grand entrance in the pub, where I can be found from time to time, enjoying a pint of overpriced Guinness.  Me, that is, not the dog.  That dog of ours is one clean living dog, or a total abstainer!  She attended a Saturday night at the pub, and was noticed and loved by everyone.  She received strokes galore, was made a fuss of, and even had a couple of chips as a treat from the chip shop down the road.  My major concern was that I would lose her, but my hand stayed firmly on the lead, and the only trouble was her getting tangled in chairs.  I was amazed by the reaction to her, and she might be allowed to come out with me more often.  She’ll keep her canine eye on me, making sure I don’t get into any trouble. It’s amazing how that mutt has worked her way into my heart and is a real doggie dog, and always seems happy to see me.  To be honest, she’s happy to see everyone, but she knows how to make you feel special, in a way that only a dog can.  Unfortunately she can, with time, and dirt on her, become a little stinky-poohs, and on Tuesday I came home and gave her her cuddle, discovered a dog that had been to doggie hairdressers and was now as soft as you wish, trimmed up, and smelling lovely.  Maybe not as pleasant as finding a banknote hidden away in your wallet, but not half bad anyway!

This is supposed to be a photography blog, or at least from time to time, so let me tell about where I am on the photographic plain.  I’m still there.  Last weekend was the Journées du Patrimoine.  I could have gone into Nantes with my camera, and visit all those places not usually open to the public and get some more “exclusive” photos, but went to Clisson instead.  I never got there.  I had the Mamiya and a couple of rolls of film with me.  Exploring some of the local villages near where I live, I even managed to go to the Château de la Preuille, a local castle that has been a favourite of mine since arriving in St Hilaire in 2001.  With Medium format film, you get 12 images with each film when shooting with the Mamiya C220, and the amount of detail that is captured on the negative is amazing.  The project was to take pictures locally and see what I could get, and the restriction of 24 shots was interesting too.  It obliges you to make that little extra effort when composing your images, as you don’t want to waste that special film.  If this article has photos, then it means that I have developed my film before Friday at 17h.  Otherwise, they’ll have to be added later on. UPDATE: It appears that you will have to wait for the photos of Château de la Preuille but they will be put on here. For the moment, you get a bit of Saint Hilaire.

I shall continue to revel in this comparatively cooler weather, with the sunshine, and not much rain forecast for the next ten days.  I look forward to seeing you in my next article.  Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, then be careful!