Riding the waves

I have missed you Dear Reader since I wrote my last article 20 days ago. There goes my idea of writing every week out of the window. I have been going through a rough time lately as far as my mental health is concerned. Let me reassure you that I am still alive, but it’s been like riding a roller coaster of emotions.

Stephen Fry once said that depression is like the weather. It exists. We don’t know how it starts, it’s just there. It’s part of our everyday life. We’re not in the depths of melancholy every day. We even have good days. We even have great days where it seems that nothing can go wrong.

However, when it does go wrong, it can go very wrong, and go very wrong very quickly. You of course try and fight it. Which is perfectly normal and a rational thing to do. But this of course takes an awful lot of effort and leaves you shattered. When you are shattered you feel your energy levels gradually diminish, and when it happens to me I seem to have a few basic tasks that I can carry out. One of the hardest of these tasks is to get out of bed every morning and affront the world. But you do it. Because you have to. You drag yourself to work. You manage to do the basic stuff so as not to be noticed. But you withdraw. You are no longer chatty. You avoid people and only talk when necessary.

You start to get feel the presence of “darker” thoughts which become increasingly darker. You start to think the worst, but the you remember that you are so bloody useless that you can’t even tie a proper knot. Yes. My incompetence has saved me once again!

Another of my basic tasks is to go to mass. It was a couple of weeks ago. I was still going to the cathedral on the Sunday night for the music. That night, my body may have been there but by mind was in turmoil. Little did I know that I was already getting better. A voice in my head said, well now, if you’re here, then it means you haven’t given up yet. It was a voice that comes to me now and again. It’s a voice that is the opposite of the voices trying to put me down. Imagine watching a cartoon where you’re thinking, and on one side you have a daemon trying to drag you down, but on the other you have an angel trying to pull you back up. One is violent in its very essence, whilst the other is pure love and gentleness. It’s at moments like this that I know God exists. God is love and where there is love, there is God. This is such a great comfort to me during these dark episodes. Maybe depression is a truly religious experience?

People generally notice that I’m not so well only after I’ve hit this rock bottom and am back on the way up. I have friends that are Catholic also, and have helped me more than they realise. Others offer simple kindness, which is another form of love. Others will just listen and not treat me as if I’m a headcase even though I might feel like one. This again is pure kindness. this kindness is like a breath of fresh air and so precious to me. I would really like to thank those of you but I can’t thank you enough.

My mental health is like being a sea. I am the ship, and get battered about by the waves. There is always a real risk that I may sink and cease to be, but when I’m at the very bottom of the wave I know that I will start to rise again. Sometime it takes a little longer than I may first have hoped. But I will rise.

I have accepted this as being part of who I am. I am fully conscious of when I am starting to stumble. I know the signs. I know what I am looking out for. Can it be cured? I don’t honestly know. There is certainly no quick fix. There is no pill that you can pop that will make everything right again. At best it offered me an automatic pilot for a given period of time.

Some have said that I suffer from Hypersensitivity. I was given a book as a present from a friend and have actually started reading it. I don’t know what to think about it yet. I’m not a great believer in self-help books and don’t believe there is one solution for everyone, let alone for myself. All I know at the moment is that I am feeling better, and am feeling ready to ride the waves one more time.

Passage du Gois, and the Port du Bec

I seem to have this habit of going into Nantes with my camera and using it as an excuse to have some me time, eat cake, and drink tea. Now I’ve been told about how self-care is important but it’s beginning to show around my waist. I think it might be making me lazy as far as photography is concerned too.

So, what to do? Go somewhere else that doesn’t have tea and cake! I also wanted to keep away from towns and cities. Too much familiarity, and I wanted to see if my Canon 6D Mark II still worked. It does. Yipee. And I wanted to set my self the constraint of using just my 50mm F1.8, the famous nifty fifty!

I love my Fujifilm cameras and haven’t switched back or anything but change is good.

It was a beautifully sunny day and just before midday. I got a sandwich at a bakery and headed off towards the coast. The car knows the first part of the way there as it’s the way to work. I passed the factory and gave her a swift hello. It looks so empty without her workers going about their daily duties. Maybe she needs a weekend as much as we do. Anyway…

I arrived at Beauvoir Sur Mer and passed the holiday home of a friend from the band. I didn’t see the car so continued without stopping. I arrived at the Port du Bec, and made my way down towards the boats wondering how those ramshackle wooden jetties can support the weight of a fisherman… Needless to say, I didn’t try to find out. Erring on the side of caution. I may not have the wisdom of an old man, but I’m not daft either. Maybe the beginnings of wisdom are that we know that we know nothing, but that we are too big to go and play silly buggers!

The blue sky was reflected in the sea. It felt great to be alive. The sun really makes a difference after so much rain. And I wasn’t the only one out. Over the bay I could see Noirmoutier in the distance protecting us from ravages of the Atlantic. All was calm. I like calm. I like calm about as much as I do tea and cake. I walked down to the sea and gently walked back towards the car and off to my next destination, the Passage du Gois.

The Passage du Gois is a passage. The clue is in the name… It is the passage between the mainland and the island of Noirmoutier on the Vendée coast. The particularity is that, like Lindesfarne in Northumberland, it is covered by the sea at high tide. However on the Passage du Gois, that tide can roll in faster than a galloping horse at a rather quick gallop.

One of the local spectator sports is watching motorists trying to beat the tide and there is a real danger that they might not make it. That’s what those beacons are for. They actually have a foot race where the runner finish with wet feet!

When the tide is out it’s a different matter all together. I once took a couchsurfer from the US there. We parked on the sand and watched people fishing for shellfish. She’d never seen anything like it in her life!

It felt great and the sea air always does me good. I might just have to go back…

The Port du Bec

The Passage du Gois

Happy New Year

So I was almost late for Merry Christmas, but in France you get until the end of January to wish people Happy New Year, so not late at all! Yayyyy, go me! Thank heavens that I’m not called Nads…. (old joke, and I’m nearly ashamed of using it to introduce an article)

Here we go then. Happy New Year. Or as the French might say on a good day, Bonne Année à toi! Which as work will be answered by, Bonne et heureuse… Et la santé avant tout! Have a good and happy one, and good health above all. That’s not really my thing. It sounds like a formula that you bring out to shut people up. I wish you enough riches not to be afraid of going to get the post everyday. I wish you friends or a friend to help you and be there for you. I wish you not what you want, but definitely what you might need. Anything else is a bonus.

I also wish you the joy that a cup of tea and a slice of cake give me!

Since I last wrote I’ve been taking a few photos, been back to work and have completed my first week of the year. I have lead two choir rehearsals, been to one windband rehearsal, had a whole day of windband rehearsal, and have have had the odd cup of tea. Some of them very odd.

On the 31st I thought it might be wiser to let my wife be, and let her look after things rather than be in her way. I know my place after all. Killian was supposed to be heading off into Nantes to bring the new year with his friends. For those of us staying at home, my wife had decided to prepare a raclette, which is based on melted cheese covering pieces of cold meats and potatoes. As I’m not into meat, this was a waste of time for me, but she was lovely and made sure I had a vegetarian option.

So to let her be, I thought I would go out with my camera and try and get some nice photos of the Anneaux de Buren and maybe the grue. Whilst out I met a friend who I had run into when we were out with our children. I spotted his camera, and he spotted mine and we got talking about photography. We still have to go on that photowalk Patrick! Time was getting on and I thought it wise to wish him a Happy New Year, and head back home.

I don’t know about you Dear Reader, but the idea of having to enjoy myself just because somebody said so, gets me a little cranky. Yayy it’s the Reveillon so you have to have fun! No I don’t. So just before midnight I headed up to bed. My facebook status read, Happy New Year, can I go to bed now?

The photos were taken on the Fujifilm XT2 with a 24mm (equivalent) lens, and the Helios 58mm lens. Can you tell which photos were taken with which lens?

Christmas 2019

Merry Christmas dear Reader. Ok. I know I’m a little late but that’s fine. Most of these blog posts have that impression of being slightly out of sync like a news reporter talking live from outside Parliament, or a badly dubbed film… trust me, I will wish you a Happy New Year by the end of June, I just don’t know in what year yet.

Christmas has been great this year. For those who know me I’ll just let that sink in. For those of you who know me as a tea drinker and cake eater, I mean cake amateur, this is the first Christmas where I have not been depressed for so long. The others can come back now.

I always make a difference between Christmas, and the secular Christmas , which is all about joining the orgy of consumerism, eating,and drinking. The kind of Christmas we have in France, buy all this nice food, buy all this nice wine, buy the expensive presents for those you love, and you will have happiness and people will love you. They’re so good at fooling us that we fall for the same bullshit year in, year out.

The Christmas I had this year was post Lourdes and my return to the Church. I still bought presents for my family, and loved the presents my family gave me. One was a machine that made tea. And I’m always so wary of people that claim that it is possible to make tea without using boiling water, scalding the teapot first etc. This machine is actually rather good. Will wonders never cease?

Right. Back to where I was. I travelled though Advent and what the readings in Mass during Advent teach us. I went to confession to prepare my soul. I asked God to bring my family together and celebrate the giving of Christmas the way that God gave us Jesus, Emmanuel, or God amongst us. Maybe before I was the problem, because this year I was in such a different place mentally.

We have a tradition of always having somebody over for Christmas who is alone or not with their family for Christmas. This year, it was a friend of Killian’s whose family had just suffered a death. He needed to be elsewhere as a self preservation mechanism. The table was laid out with finger foods, but the good stuff that makes this meal special the way Christmas is special. There was wine and beer. There were Christmas crackers that had been spotted my daughter in the shop where I get various cakes and sweets. The French don’t do Christmas crackers, and my son’s friend was slightly put off by the English tradition of putting a stupid flimsy paper crown on. but he did it and we all had a good time. I had just one beer so I would be clear to go to midnight mass.

Midnight mass started with a service at 23h30. As I drove up to Nantes there was hardly anybody on the roads. I parked and had never seen so many spaces in that car park. As I walked though the Quartier Bouffay, I could see nobody on the streets. I could see windows with lights on, and people around tables. As I walked pas the Sainte Croix church, I could hear the singing of hymns already celebrating Christmas. I saw the Soldiers guarding the Church just in case. I wished them Merry Christmas and felt thankful that it wasn’t cold. I walked on past Decré, past the Place de Pilori, and on towards the Cathedral. As I advanced, more people seemed to join me. Otherwise Nantes was sitting down to eat.

The Bishop said mass and the music was special in a way that only Christmas music can be. Despite being part of the body of the Church and celebrating mass like so many other Catholics in the world I felt alone. I was missing having my family by my side. I would have to wait for the next day, Christmas Day, to be able to have my wife and two children with me. That made my Christmas. That and really good tea, and some lovely Christmas cake with cheese on it…

PS. It’s actually the Epiphany today today, so technically I’m not late yet.

The last Saturday before Christmas

I have said it on here before, and I will say it again. I have moments of folly, where lucidity says bugger this, I’m outta here punk! And so it was the Saturday before Christmas. I had agreed to meet a friend in town and help her choose presents for her nephew and niece in Switzerland. I also thought I could get to confession and prepare my soul for the feast that is Christmas.

I was slowly getting used to the Fujifil XT2, and thought, right, I’ll go out early and try and get a space before everyone else has the same idea, and get used to it even more. I arrived at the car park and had to wait at the barrier, but was patient.

I phoned my friend to say that I had managed to park the car and felt slightly smug. I texted her and she said she was still in pyjamas and having her coffee. Ah… Well I wasn’t expecting that. But that gave me some time

Whilst learning photography back in the day when I had hair, I used a 50mm lens, and learnt how to use it through and through. It was years later that I acquired a 28mm lens for my Praktica MTL 3, and really got into it. Later I continued when I got my X100F (35mm equivalent), my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm zoom lens. So it seemed logic to get a wide angled lens for the XT2. I ended up getting a 16mm which is a 24mm equivalent. Not too much distortion but still nice and wide.

Parked in Feydeau, and just next to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle, I thought why the heck not, and headed up there. I just went with no specific goals, and waited for the photos to present themselves whilst walking around. I discovered a little art gallery that I hadn’t seen before and it was a real inspiration.

I walked towards the Fnac where my freind said she wanted to meet me. She was getting a record player for her girlfriend and wanted my help to choose. We chose, and headed to Sugar Blue Café for lunch, which was one the good ideas I had that day. A vegetarian salad, and for the desert we got to cakes. One was the Christmas cake, which had red fruit, crème de marron (which is a huge favourite of mine), and covered in Marscapone icing, the other cake was a Stracciatella Cheesecake, which was sooooo naughty. That’s wrong, both were amazing, and I’ll just have to go back after they get back from their Christmas break.

I told her that I wanted to go to confession and she said she would go and try and find an Ugly Christmas Jumper for her Christmas meal. We stopped off in a shop that does paper crafts for the presents for the children. We parted, I went to church, and we met up after the rain to go to the Comptoir Irlandais to get all those Christmas goodies that you can’t get anywhere else. I needed bickies, and cake for all the tea that I would be drinking over the holidays. We finished up in the Pub, and I was able to present her to my friends there. The restaurant across the road had no tables left!!!! O disaster! I had a plan B. My plan B was the Reine Margot and although it looks like a fast food joint from the front, the menu tells a different story, and when you get past the initial corridor, you enter the restaurant. We started with snails, then duck, and I finished with a chocolate cake, then back to pub for a swift drink before heading home.

All in all a lovely day, with a lovely friend, and I was happy with the catch of photos for the day.

Letter to my daughter

I have a daughter.  Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will have seen pictures of her.  She is a thousand things to me, and more.  A muse, an inspiration, a little mother, my child, a force of nature, an enigma, a reminder of her mother, a little person turning into a young lady.

I think, like most ten year olds, she puts up with me but allows me to take her photo, but I didn’t expect these two photos.  They sum her up quite well.  She has that look that can kill at a thousand paces.  She has that look that says, that’s enough!  Stop please.  But she’s not just a killer.

When you were born, I was going through depression. I was still doing shift work. My constant companion was Insomnia, and was leaving me in a dreadful state. I wasn’t much of a father during that first year. I had moments of lucidity and of course loved you deeply. You changed my view on women. I’m not saying I was a Trump who wants to grab small cats or anything, but I think the moment you become the father of a daughter you change your perspective so quickly. I mean I’ve always tried to give my son a good example to follow, and to teach him that just because a person can’t write their name in the snow without their hands, it makes them no less of a person and must be respected as such. Any woman must be treated as a lady, even if she is not one. We have a duty to protect women. It might a little old school of me and possibly even patriarchal, but that’s the way I roll.

You reminded me what the word tenderness meant. At the time Killian was 11 and I felt that I had to harden him up to affront this world, where not everything is rosy, and I had forgotten. Any small child has the ability to melt your heart, especially when they belong to you. I remembrer laying next to you when you were on your play mat, and looking at you in wonderment. I remember you being a toddler and always trying to give me your bottle and make me drink. Obviously afraid that I wasn’t eating enough. I remember making biscuits with you and seeing your little face light up when you would eat the still warm biscuits with milk. I remember you coming in to see me when I was hiding in my room, hiding from the world when I couldn’t affront it. Depression is a bitch. You would give me the best cuddles ever and reminded me how much you needed your Papa d’amour chéri.

You always were a strong willed child, and this has not changed. You love spending time with me and having days out in Nantes, or elsewhere. We get in the car and you tell me exactly where I am to drive. Everything is planned in your mind ahead of time. Now and again I am allowed to bring my camera, but as soon as I get the look I know it’s time.

The look!

At the end of the day you allow me to go to the pub. I’m allowed to have a pint of Guinness, and you have a coke and a packet of crisps.

Despite being a force of nature my protective nature has surfaced. I want to defend you against all agression, especially as you become a teenager. Luckily you are the little sister of a big brother and knows how to fight. But every time you get hurt, my whole being hurts. Thank heavens there are no “boys” yet. You dare to be different and already are learning to pay the price at school. I worry about the Collège years. That awkward age… I know you will come out of it on the other side, and that any suffering will form you, and help you to become the woman you are destined to be.

I hear tales of women being cat called in the street, and being harassed. I have known victims of rape. I have known women who have been given grief for wearing the “wrong clothes” and “asking for it!” What kind of world do we live in? To all men out there, remember to act as gentlemen. Try and be more than an animal. A woman in the street is somebody’s daughter, sister, mother, and has as much a right to dignity as you do!

Kate, you have been my daughter for ten and a half years, and I have grown as a person. You have taught me to be gentle again. You have taught me to love. You have given me a reason to keep going despite the hard days.

I love you.

Ton petit Papa d’amour chéri.