Sometimes watching people watch art is half the fun. Especially modern art. It makes you question what art actually is. Sometimes you have to look twice. Sometimes you think a five-year-old could do the same thing, and maybe even better. Or, as in the case of the work “Comedian” by Maurizio Cattelan, your art gets eaten by a hungry student that skipped breakfast.
I always seem to put things off, so I’m obviously running behind schedule with this piece. Simply put, things seem to get in the way. I nevertheless believe that the idea has some merit. The exhibition itself ended on May 7th, and I’m writing about it now, 20 days later. Dear Reader, I am aware that you are understanding of your humble servant and that you are forgiving.
If I want to enjoy some art in the same manner that I have been known to enjoy a cup of tea and some cake, I think about going to the HAB Gallery in Nantes’ Hangar à Bananes. If you were in town last month, you could have seen the “Une ebauche lente à venir” show, which featured recent pieces by Léopold Rabus and Till Rabus, some of which were produced just for the event. This art helps you take a second glance and discover the fun and foolishness in art. You may see it in the images at the conclusion of this post. See if you can spot two mischievous dogs and two mischievous pigeons!
Still life and landscapes are combined and delve into the artist’s basic urge to paint. Léopold’s paintings are loaded with lovely and weird animals: cows, slugs, birds, flies, dogs, and deer in the snow; a mound of faeces; chicken coops; and fields. Till’s paintings, in baroque and extravagant compositions, are loaded with trash, people, and other consumer objects.
Léopold Rabus (born 1977) and Till Rabus (born 1975) are Swiss artists that pay close attention to the reality of the world around them, and their art is full of sarcasm and comedy, challenging preconceived notions of what is and isn’t beautiful.
This piece, however, is about those who are viewing art and absorbing it all in. Or are they simply devouring culture to appear fashionable? To be in, since who wants to be left out? The French and their elitism in culture! Half the fun is watching those who make a concerted effort to “educate” themselves because it is trendy, a la Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and those who take it all less seriously and enjoy watching the humour in the paintings and laughing at the absurdity of some of the pieces. I’m all for being an intellectual in intellectual settings where the study of art is academic, as opposed to the faux leftist intellectuals, yet at times art is about not being an intellectual. As Nike once tried to say, Just Do It!
It’s 15h31 on a Monday afternoon, and I’m laying in my bed writing this whilst listening to Bach played on the guitar. Molly is sleeping (and snoring) next to my bed and has just had a belly rub. I was out this morning with the Fuji X100F, driving around the countryside. Why wasn’t I at work, I hear you say, Dear Reader. Because I’m on holiday for the week. The weather has been dismal and verging on English! But today, the sun was, and is still, out. It was lovely just being in the countryside, just soaking up the sun and being at peace with the world. Even if I wished to I can’t handle drama or conflict at the moment, so it’s a self-preservation thing.
If you follow me on Instagram could be forgiven for thinking that I only deal in Black and White Photography, which appears to be my natural niche, but over here I have the freedom missing from the ‘Gram, and don’t have to worry about staying on brand or faffing about thinking about the infamous algorithm, which is the “baddie” that everyone loves to hate. A little like our French Président!
I’m not watching as much YouTube as I used to and am thinking about going back to it, for instruction, inspiration, and as a resource for a way of advancing along my photographic journey. I’ve been getting back into using the X100F in a big way too. Lightweight, and gets the job done, and continues to be slightly less conspicuous when on the street. But I think I’m becoming guilty of rehashing the famous review of the camera that I wrote last year.
One of the reasons for getting the X100F was the film simulations. At the time, I was moving from film back to digital and remember loving the results people were able to achieve. Those desaturated colours, warm tones, and a feeling of timelessness. I think I have mentioned Fuji X Weekly, and their recipes that one can use to get a feeling of various film stocks. You can tell me what you think looking at the photos below.
Today was a good day. I like good days. A mixture of barbershops, photography, cake and tea, and most importantly, friends. On this sunny Friday afternoon, I had the afternoon off from work, it would be a perfect day to go to the barbershop and get this beard of mine seen too. I knew it was sunny just by looking out the window, and thought, let’s go manual today.
There is a rule in photography called sunny 16, that says when it is sunny, and not a cloud in the sky, you can put your camera at F16, the shutter speed identical to the ISO, or film sensibility, and all your shots should come out fine or at least well exposed. It means that all you have to do is to concentrate on the moment and press the shutter when the moment is right, and by that I mean, when you have the composition that you want from a scene.
Sean Tucker did a whole video about it and I thought, well, you’ve taken his advice in the past, so why not now. I was a bit of a sissy, and didn’t use a film camera, but instead used the Fujifilm X100F so I could see what I as getting, but to be honest, I didn’t really need to. I must have more self-confidence in photography, I must have more self-confidence in photography, etc. I didn’t go F16 but stayed a little more conservative at F11.
Right, the geeky, photographer part of this article is over. The rest of you can join in again.
So first the barber shop with a couple of photos along the way as my photographic warm-up. This visual warm-up is as important as the muscular warm-up is for a runner or any other sportsman. You get your settings right. F11 because there were a couple of clouds in the sky but not enough for F8. Remember the sunny 16 as a guide to this outing.
My goal was to go and get my flowing locks of hair shaved off, my beard to be transformed from a homeless guy into a dashing older Dude, and then get to Church, pop in to say hello to Jesus since I was too early for confession, and head off to the pub.
With less hair than before and having to battle away throngs of female admirers along the way, I eventually made it to the pub. It was a quiet day at the pub. Rob, or should I say the legend that is Rob, was standing outside ready to jump on any unsuspecting client that might come by and sit down on the terrasse. He’s a good man, and we share a love of being daft and talking utter bollocks. Our jokes are amazing, at least to us. Others might disagree, but under torture will admit they were slightly funny despite being awful!
After a couple of pints of water to quench my thirst and some awful jokes I needed to pee. On my way back up I fancied a little something to nibble on.
Rob, do you fancy some Pringles and some dip?
Do you know what I really fancy Ian?
I wasn’t going to make it from scratch but I knew a place where I could acquire some for a reasonable price. So off I went to the Comptoir Irlandais. An establishment where you can find some of the world’s more comforting produce, tea, and shortbread included. Back to the pub.
Rob who is half Scottish let me know what a great fan of Iron Bru he is. Guess what I found at the Comptoir Irlandais? Yes, you’re right Dear Reader! Scotland’s number one hangover cure, not that I’m suggesting in any way at all, that the Scots would ever need a hangover cure, but if they did, this might be it. It’s a Marmite thing. You love it or you hate it. Judging by Rob’s little eyes when I came back with the shortbread fingers, and that special drink, I think we can safely say he likes it! We of course made a tonne of finger jokes, asking our Irish friend if she would like a finger. Yes, we were at that level. Fart jokes would have been a great leap forward. And I think the phrase, that’s what she said, was uttered a few times too! So all in all, yes, it was a very good day!
Sometimes you have a friend that wants a photo taken for whatever reason, and the friend in question was a schoolmate from my days at the Conservatoire de Cholet. We both still play and now play in the same orchestra. She wanted a photograph of herself with the said violin. She was expecting me to whip out my phone and Bob’s your uncle. Little did she realise that this was just not an option. As somebody who dabbles in photography with cameras and not camera phones, I suggested that I bring the studio to her and that we would try to get something half-decent.
We set up the rendez-vous, and up I turned. I was offered tea, which as you now know, Dear Reader, is something I have a great affection for, and this girl knows how to make a lovely cup of tea! Her husband arrived from getting their little boy from school, and we started setting up the studio. He was a good sport and let me use him for my test shots to get all my camera settings in order.
Then onto the serious business of getting some portraits! Now that’s the easy bit. The slightly less easy bit is where the magic happens. Photoshop is my editing software, and yet is far from being worn, or soft! The idea is to keep everything looking natural, and the premise “less is more” is my goal. If my editing is obvious, then I have to go back to the drawing board.
This is the first edited shot from the session and gives you an idea of what the result can be. See what you think and tell me in the comments how “you” might have done it!
As you can see, the poor girl is a violin player and not a horn player like Yours Truly, but we have to make allowances. Not everyone has the chance to play the most beautiful instrument in the world.
This weekend is the Easter weekend, and for Catholics, this is quite a big deal. We’ve been through forty days of Lent, and the ultimate week of Holy Week, with the sacrifices we offer up for our sins. “They,” say that you can acquire a habit in 21 days, so imagine what can happen in 40 days. Did I manage to keep up all my Lenten pledges to my God? No. But I am mindful of the efforts I made since I no longer have to make them. You see, my faith is built on the fact that God suffered His Passion for my sins, and through His immense love, how He accepted His Passion freely through love for us and bent His will to the will of the Father, and through doing this He conquered death by rising from the dead, and this to save me from my sins. It is this sacrifice that we celebrate at each mass, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
I am far from being a perfect Catholic and didn’t do all the services during Holy Week, but I was at Church last night for the Easter Vigil mass that I talked at length about last year, so, if you’re keen you can click the link and have a look. The main thing I had tried for Lent and managed was giving up the drink.
After mass, I went to the pub for my Easter pint of Guinness, which was lovely, but the second one was just “nice,” which is a word that one should never use, and it felt like an anti-climax. I mean I had become accustomed to being a teetotaler and going to the pub just to see and talk with my friends. It is possible to put the world to rights without alcohol.
Each year I always seem to have the same feeling of, well kid, what next? Am I pleased that Jesus has risen? Of course, I am! But it’s as if Lent has left me wanting a little more discipline. I miss it already. I’m not into beating myself up, but the little extra effort has done my soul good, and I want that to continue for the rest of the year. Lent has brought me just that little closer to Jesus, and I want that part of it to continue.
Maybe my lenten journey has changed me more than I could imagine. Is it a rejection of what could be called the old me? Could it be that Lent has helped me concentrate more on what is essential and what is superfluous? Did fasting and abstinence affect me in ways that have changed my perspective? Is God pushing me in a certain direction? Maybe I should do it more often.
Don’t worry mother, I haven’t turned into a total abstainer, but it feels good being able to say no if I want. Am I the only Catholic that this happens to?
There are as many approaches to photography as there are photographers. Some are top of the chain hunters with all the gear, going up mountains to get that special image. Some are machine gunners, shooting everything in sight, hoping to at least hit the target once. Some are scavengers, going out to know where people have already taken great shots, and just hope they can get something too. Others are fishermen.
And, of course, I identify as a fisherman. Now, in a time, long, long ago, before I tried to reboot a semblance of a musical career, I used to go fishing. I wasn’t a serious fisherman and didn’t have all the kit, but I had a couple of rods and knew what I could get put of them despite being a complete beginner. I wasn’t really bothered about getting a fish from the river, to out of the river, and onto a dinner plate. Even though it was an obvious bonus. It was about being outside. It was hearing the sound of the river as it was, about hearing the birdsong and about sharing something with my son. It was like a sort of mediation. You become so aware of every sensation, and it brought me so much peace.
I was far from being an expert, and getting up at the crack of dawn to go to a specofic spot just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t chuck in a grenade to get everything out of the river. Maybe I was a scavenger, without having the vain hope that they seem to have. I think it was my patience and gratitude for every fish that did it fr me. No instant gratification…
Could this apply to my photography? Possibly. Am I that hunter that will climb mountains to get that one shot? Well it has happened, but only because there was a funicular. Or because I was in Paris and knew that I was bound to get something on film. Or even in Nantes.
I have a certain amount of gear and a certain number of cameras. I know how each piece of kit works and what I can get out of them. But the most important thing is being out of the house. It’s about being to detatch oneself from the scene and becoming an observer who is conscious of what is going on around you. If you get that prize-winning photo, then great, and if you don’t, then great too. Just having a pit stop to have cake, and a nice cup of tea makes everything worthwhile.
When I used to suffer from anxiety, that fact of being able to detatch from a scene and become a mere observer did me the world of good. I was no longer in constant flight or fight mode. With my 40 years of this photo lark, I have managed to take one some of the basics and still manage to get a not too shabby hit rate. It’s about doing and not thinking. Yes, of course you think about your composition and your settings, but just taking everything in is far more important.
Some people have sport. Some have painting. Some have a multitude of creative pursuits that allow them to express themselves. It would appear that mine is exploring the world around me with a camera. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you don’t. The mere act of being out there exploring and letting the images present themselves to you can be enough.
As some of you may know, I am a Catholic. I pray. Not perfectly, but I try. Sometimes you feel spiritual darkness, where you think what the heck am I doing this for because it’s not working, but, with faith, you keep going. Because you believe. Because you’re not a child waiting for an immediate response, and you know that sometimes, you can’t feel God around, but then, suddenly, you get an answer and you know He was listening to you all along and that your faith in Him was being tested.
My son was the object of many Rosaries and prayers, asking God to help him through a breakup. He took it really hard, and of course, as a father, you worry. Especially me! You pray for healing in his life journey, and then this weekend happened. Firstly, on Friday I was allowed to leave work at Friday lunchtime as I was completely up to date, and I managed to get an appointment to get my beard seen to at the barbers. I was starting to look as if I was getting familiar with my vagrant side. The girl who looked after me was obviously very skilled and when I came out, I looked way better, almost like a regular member of society, and a little less like Karl Marx or Victor Hugo.
Don’t ask me why, but I was motivated to get into my kitchen on Saturday and start creating. I have, like many of you, Dear Reader, been infected by TikTok. Various styles of TikTok exist or rather various styles of videos that people gravitate towards. For me, all those filters are just a waste of space, and not really my thing, but what is, is the Italian American Nonnas, that share their food and cooking secrets. A lot seems to be pretty basic and uses few ingredients, but as one Italian chef refers to it, it is the “sound of love” as he swishes around the food in the pan. And he’s right, of course. Cooking for somebody is a labour of love! So, I cooked. I prepared food for my wife and daughter. It was simple and uncomplicated, but it was flavoursome. And flavoursome is a word that I have a great deal of affection for.
Killian came in to see what I was doing and to taste what I was doing. He approved of my decision. We agreed that we would cook later that day together for the evening feast and that we had to empty the freezer. We also agreed that the next morning that we would go to the shops to get some celery, so I could make some more sauces. But just celery, mind you… I humoured him and agreed. That night, we made the evening meal together. Alexa was on, and we were just two guys chilling in the kitchen making food. It was wonderful A real father/son moment. All was well with the world. He prepared the fish, and the mashed potato, and I was to prepare the French beans. We prepared our ingredients, chopped finely, or just seasoned ready to go into the oven. And put everything together for our meal. We even found some cheese to put on top of the fish pie to make it crispy.
The next day came along, and we were still on high from the previous evening. I saw my son with his hands in a bowl making something that looked awfully like bread! He was actually making Cheese filled Nan bread, which is like Nonna Bread, just less Italian… After two cups of tea, finding some clean socks, and getting dressed, we headed out to get our celery. I told him to get a couple of bags, knowing full well that we wouldn’t “just” get some celery. Yeah, but Dad, I don’t want to do the weekly shopping. Don’t worry, son, we won’t. Instead of getting a trolley, we just used one of the plastic baskets to limit my spending frenzy. I could see that he was starting to get worried about the amount of food entering the basket, and told him it would be alright. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a food shop I don’t see produce, I see parts of recipes. I see what I can do with each bit of food and how it becomes an ingredient. With this, I can do that, etc. The total came up to €42 which is pretty good since without some discipline, and self-control, I could have filled up a whole trolley. It has happened in the past. Hence today’s helpful tip. Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry!
Bouyed up on the day’s food, and fatherly son moments, it was with inner peace that I arrived at Mass that evening. Only very slightly late because of Nantes traffic, I didn’t feel too horrible! All of a sudden I looked up and saw this strange man. Except it wasn’t a strange man, but Jean Guillaume my old friend that I didn’t recognise at first because he shaved his beard. He had been through relationship troubles but was happy to present his new companion. I was so happy to be able to see him again after so much time. He left before Mass had finished, and when mass was over I messaged him to say to meet up the next Sunday and that we would go and get something to eat together and he could bring me up to date.
Lent is a time when we prepare ourselves for Easter by doing pennance and recognising our many sins. Back in the day, one would give up something, and then the bsihops started telling us to do something extra. After the success of last year, I’m giving up the drink, and as I’m already doing a daily rosary, I asked my wife to join me in praying it. It’s not always easy as she complains about the old fashioned way I say the prayers in French calling God Vous instead of the more modern Tu. I’m more familiar with the credo in French as I learnt it when Killian was a boy. but we still manage to do it though and find a common understanding, much like in our married lives. I started gently by doing on decade with her, but we’re gradually moving up a notch and by Easter I would hope for us to be able to do a full rosary together. I don’t know what effect it might have on us both, but one has to trust in God’s paln for us, and no prayer is ever wasted and sometimes are even answered when you least expect it…
Sometimes you have brunch and just feel that all is well with the world. Well, that Sunday, all was definitely well with the world, or at least, well with my world, which isn’t a bad way to be on a delightful sunny February afternoon. Out in town with my camera, well-fed, and just wandering around, seeing what would turn up in front of my camera.
If I were to be honest, I know that if I go to such-and-such an area, I will get such-and-such a kind of photo, so we can’t about wandering around aimlessly, but there was a sort of randomness… Sort of.
Get ready for some technical information, which will hopefully explain the style of photos that I am presenting to you today. When converting my images to black and white, I edited as if I had a red filter on my camera and as if I were using black and white film. When using this red filter, anything that is blue comes out in a darker tone. It’s going to be easier to use an image instead of a thousand words…
A lot of the photos that follow will exhibit this effect as if they were case book studies. You need the sky to be a certain way or it just won’t work, but when it does, you get the kind of image that jumps out at you. That and the 16-35mm lens, you can’t really go wrong. Mind you, after that delicious brunch, not a lot could go wrong…
When I look back at this blog, it would appear that I have been “at it” since the 19th of February 2019 (or was it that I took the first photos for the blog on that day?) and it would also appear that I am still “at it!” There have been various themes to the blog, including a bit of photography, a bit of Nantes in France, a few obligatory bike shots, a couple of portraits, a couple of articles about my mental health, and my love of tea and cake.
Today, I will talk about tea and cake, and will also share a favourite address where one can partake in this passion of mine. Not that I’m turning into a lifestyle blog of course. Salivating? Get a napkin and wipe your mouth already!
At the beginning of the month, I had a rehearsal with the Symphonique des Bords de Loire, and with a couple of my friends from Cholet days, who play the fiddle, we went to have tea, and cake, in Nantes after the rehearsal. What a good idea! It would have to be La Passagère, in the Passage Pommeraye, and whilst waiting to be placed, we could ooh and ahh, looking at the cakes and thinking about what we might like to have.
It was just lovely looking through the menu and deciding how we would go about getting diabetes. You’ll be able to get an idea by exploring the photos… The girls had various forms of hot chocolate, and I had Darjeeling. Somebody has to keep standards up! They’re absolutely charming but French… We must show understanding.
So with blood sugar rising, we reminded ourselves of the “brunch sign” that we had seen whilst waiting at the entrance. We have two concerts in May with meeting times at 14h30, which is when they stop serving brunch. Well, it would be a shame to miss that. So we’re not going to miss that! At €28 a head, it seemed to be a good price for such a treat! That somebody has a birthday the same day, has nothing to do with anything. Oh no…
As the good friend that I am, I thought that somebody should do a recce. I would climb up to the parapet and ready myself to go over the top and sacrifice myself to control the quality of this brunch from La Passagère. Somebody has to do it, and as a gentleman, it has to be me.
I turned up and was seated. The waiter showed me the Brunch menu, placed some other people, and brought me the menu back. I was so excited that I missed half of it. Could I have Darjeeling please, even though I could have chosen any hot drink on the menu, even an Irish coffee, and with a choice of brioche, croissant, and pain au chocolat, I went for some pain and chose a citron pressé for my daily dose of vitamin C.
The gentleman brought me my tea, my viennoiserie, which looked perfect, and my citron, and then said, I’ll be back with the rest. The rest. Two short words hold such promise and make Ian, a very happy chappy. He came back with a tray with fromage blanc, granola, fruit salad, and my favourite jam in the whole wide world. Myrtille Jam. And a shrimp salad. There was me being even happier by the moment and remembering to take photos to show my friends in the group chat.
The only thing that I could complain about was the lack of more tasty fruit salad! The prawns were wonderful and felt almost meaty! Everything was magical. Is it the done thing to put jam on my pain au chocolat? Even if it isn’t, it won’t be the last time I do this. I might have to do it in private next time.
A very nice waitress came to see me and asked me whether I was ready for the next plate. What a sweetie, knowing exactly what to say to make me happy. Out came a very timid, yet heartfelt, “yes please!” Back she came with “la suite.” A parboiled egg that had had its shell removed, on a bed of some finely cut leek and carrots in a cream sauce. Cutting into the egg, the yolk was perfectly runny. A true taste sensation! The generous serving of smoked salmon was top-notch. Luckily, there was just enough bread to mop up the sauce and remaining yolk.
And that was just the start of a day of photography on a warm and sunny day in February. But that deserves its own article…
WordPress, like most companies, wants to create wealth, especially for WordPress. One way it does that is to create advertising that it will place on the sites that allow it. IE you go on a page and every time that you click on the ad, the advertiser gets people to its page and pays WordPress for this privilege. I’m not into advertisements on websites, and like some old-timer surfer, believe that they are a mighty pox that should be eradicated, like world poverty, and poorly made cups of tea.
But I digress. That last paragraph has nothing to do with death, I hear you say, and you know what, Dear Reader, you’d be right! But I promise I will get back to death, but back to ads first. WordPress has decided that they want to sell ad space. Nothing has changed since the newspapers, apparently. Ads to pay the ink and the journalist that writes the articles. If, however, the articles in the newspaper are dismally awful, then you might not want to read the newspaper in question, and therefore WordPress wants you to “create content” that is interesting or meaningful.
They have found a sneaky way of doing this. The buggers! On my dashboard for this site, yes that one that people seem to keep reading despite me writing everything, WordPress gives you subject hints about what to write about. Some were about what would happen if you won the lottery, another about describing your first computer, and then I saw this one. How does death change your perspective?
Soooo, let’s see what we write about death. It’s like those essay titles you used to get at school in English, French, or German, etc.
It is, of course, a very loaded question, and it would be easy to play to the clichés about death. As a religious person who is fortunate to have been blessed with a certain amount of faith and instruction, I know that death is part of life, and with taxes, happens to everyone, at least one day in their lives, usually at the end of their lives of course.
My first experience of death was at primary school, where a classmate’s brother was killed whilst crossing the road. It certainly made me aware of the dangers of crossing the road.
In 1979 my Great Grandmother died. This mother, grandmother, and Great Grandmother was the kind of lady that would wait for the milkman to deliver the milk with his cart and horse and pounce on the horse poop with a dustpan and brush to use the poop on her roses. Apparently, it was a savage competition. All this for a bucket of shit!
At the age of 13, my grandfather died. I was with my grandmother who had just lost her husband. I was crying and there she was comforting me instead of the other way around. With 70 years of age difference, we certainly had a different perspective on death.
In 1987, my uncle died prematurely, and I remember seeing the family walk up the aisle in the church behind the coffin that contained his body crying. In 1989, it was my grandmother’s time to leave this world behind and enter the next world, and it took me six months to cry.
In the last twenty years, I have lost school friends, a cousin, four aunts, two uncles, and a nephew, and when going through depression, I could have been next on the list. Statistically, I am closer to death than my children, but death can come at any time. Now, at 51, I am not afraid of death. I have accepted that this has happened and can happen, and although not something I would wish upon anyone, you know it becomes more and more likely.
It is always saddest for those left behind, and we feel the part of the deceased took in our lives, missing from us, and this missing part hurts like bloody hell. So, if death is inevitable, then how do face it? Some atheists have told me that you live, and then you die and you cease to exist. How can that be? The dead mentioned earlier in this article are still in my heart and therefore must still exist somewhere. As a Catholic, I believe in eternal life, not for my body, but for my soul. That soul lives in my body, but there is no way of identifying it. The soul makes me, me. It is like talking about my spirit. When I die, my body will die, and my soul will be judged by my creator. What happens to my soul will depend on how I spent my life preparing myself for my death. This death that is part of life… If I have rejected my God, then my soul will be separated from Him and will spend eternity in hell separated from God forever. If I have merited heaven but my soul still has the stain of sin on it, then it will be purified in the fires in purgatory, and once cleansed of sin, may enter Heaven, or if I die in a state of grace, then I will enter Heaven directly and spend eternity with my God.
So, does death change my perspective? And if so on what? On my life? On the way I chose to lead my life? Possibly. I will die one day. It will happen. I hope I will be prepared and I pray for those who have died and have gone before me. Some will say that I am delusional for believing in a big guy in the sky and that it ends when you die. The difference between me and that person is that I have hope, faith, and love. And yes, it changes the way I try to lead my life.
Well, that was an interesting exercise, and I might try it again. I hope not to have been morbid or overdone the whole thing, but I have been honest with you. Those who believe, and who accept Catholic doctrine, pray for the souls in purgatory, as they pray for us, even more so when they are delivered into God’s Presence in heaven. It’s good to have people on your side.
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!
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!
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!
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!