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.

Day out with my son

I’m in the pub after having heard Mass in the Cathedral with my son. Last might he was out having “drinks” with friends for his birthday. I said I would meet him in Nantes the next day and that we would spend the day together.

He would be able to choose his birthday cum Christmas present. Since I’m a nice guy and loving father (sometimes…), but what the heck, I said that I would pick him up at his friend’s flat.  The plan was to go into town, have brunch together in the Passage Pommeraye, go around the shops for him, his sister, and my wife, and then go to mass together.

That, at least, was the plan. I picked him up and he looked almost human. We drove into town and actually had a coherent conversation, but he did say that it was a little too sunny and bright… We parked the car and entered “smug mode!” There wouldn’t be any spaces later on, but I found one quite easily… Lady Luck was smiling on us. Little did I know she was just lulling us into a false sense of security.

First things first, he needed some cigarettes, so of we went to the Tabac, then off for brunch. On the way we met a couple who are those kind of people that know how to make you feel wonderful as soon as you see them. I’m not saying that being Canadian has anything to do with it, but it might explain something. Or it might just be that they are just so special and one of a kind. They’ll know who they are if and when they read this. They’re also the couple that told me about Mass in the Cathedral on a Sunday night.

We left them to their meal and pre-meal drinks on the terrace of the café. Direction, the Passage Pommeraye for a wonderful brunch, and Killian was in need of coffee. We got there and the bloody place was shut! Disaster. That Lady Luck was being somewhat less of a lady.

I started scrambling for a plan B. We found a place that sold hot dogs. Everything made on the premises and sourced locally, and not expensive. But they were massive, and we wondered how we were going to get something so big into our mouths, which as you guessed is what she said… We sat on the steps in the street to eat them. As we ate, we saw children passing and “they” knew they had just seen Father Christmas…. Happens often at this time of year.

I had decided that my son needed some clothes and I wanted him to have something nice, so we headed to the nice part of town. We hadn’t had coffee yet and he really needed some, so we ordered 2 expressos, and chatted whilst we sipped them. There was a shop that I had been in and thought, oh I have to take Killian there, and I had forgotten the name of the place and where it was. Two hours and quite a few steps later we found the place and our luck changed. The shop was open!!!! He wanted a flat cap à la Peeky Blinders, and he found one. Present for Killian, check!

By this time he was human again and caffeine had obviously worked its magic, in that peculiar way that caffeine seems to do.

We started wondering again, but this time looking for something for my wife. We ended up on a kitchen equipment shop selling any gadget you could need. This is a very dangerous place for me as my eyes light up like those of a child in a sweet shop.

We got a message from a friend’s daughter saying that she and he brother were in town with friends and would we like to meet up. I of course said yes and that we were near such and such a place. She said she would phone me as soon as she was parked. She couldn’t find a space so they would park away from the city centre and catch the tram to joins us and where would we be. I of course said why don’t we meet up at the pub, and here’s how to get there. We arrived just in time to order Guinness and say hello to the guys behind the bar, and in they came. It was good to catch up and we talked about nothing and everything in equal amounts and they left saying how we would meet up in 6 weeks time at their mother’s wedding. I’ll be taking a few photos as a present for the bride.

Killian and I wondered around more shops just in case we found something for the girls (wife, and my daughter) we couldn’t find anything except for my daughter, but as we were talking about my wife, his mother, we knew what we were going to get for her. Except we have no idea on where to look.

We got the the Cathedral with time to spare so looked around before mass started. That organist is amazing, and you can literally feel the organ music and it resonates in the church. It goes right through you. It was lovely not being on my own for mass too.

Afterwards we thanked the priest for mass and headed off to the pub for a quick pint, and then on to get some food. Vegan burger that was actually really good, and even Killian thought so too, which is praise indeed.

A long day, but a good day. The kind of day that any father and son should have once in a while. The only thing missing? Some cake….

 

Sainte Anne, and the Grue

This weekend I haven’t taken any photos, but as they say so well in Blue Peter, here’s one I made earlier.  These photos are now two weeks old. They were taken from different sides of the Loire. The first were taken in the Hangar à Bananes on the Saturday when I was with my daughter, and the ones overlooking the Loire the day after when I went to see my pregnant friend, who, by the way, is no longer pregnant, and has a new baby at home. 

More important news for the family. My son has passed his driving test.  This is of course wonderful and we are very happy for him.  However it means that he has to have a car to drive and find work.  He had the choice between my “Dad” car, and his mother’s smaller car.  As he’s over 6 feet, he decided on my car. It also has cruise control, and a speed limiter, so there’s no excuse to get pulled over for driving too fast.  This is all well and good,but it means that I have to get a new car. Ah well. Somebody has to sacrifice himself, and so I sacrificed myself.  

Now with a new car, even a second-hand car, you have to get used to it and take posession of the space.  Now I don’t know about you Dear Reader, but I seem to spend quite a lot of time in my car. It’s like an extension of my home.  When you see people picking their noses in a traffic jam, it’s because they are, in their heads of course, still at home and behave as if they were.  I listen to music in it. I eat in it. I drink in it (water of course). And I use it to go to places to take photographs.  

So that Sunday, I thought, ok, I’ll go into town, and I took my camera along with me just in case…  Yeah well, I know “you” believe me.

Where am I going with this?  Yes, the photos from the North side of the Loire were taken on the Sunday when I saw my pregnant friend, at the Butte Sainte Anne, where I had been once before and messed up my film development. Right.  I’d taken the first photos from one side of the river, and the next day, I took photos on the other side of the river. That makes sense doesn’t it?  

The Jules Verne (a native of Nantes) Museum is at the top of the hill, and the statue of the boy is Jules as a boy.  The other statue is of Capitaine Némo with his sextant looking down the river towards the sea.

The Monday was the 11th of November, Armistice Day, and it’s a public holiday here in France. I thought it would be good to spend some quality time with my daughter.

She is my reluctant model, but will allow me to take a couple of shots of her.  Then she starts getting moody, and says, “aller Papa, on se dépêche làààààà!” So I make a noise and continue my way.  And then stop to take another photo. This of course is the last straw and I’m told how “j’en ai marre Papa. Aller!!!” So I move on.  We try and find the Altercafé only to find that it has changed owners and no longer exists. I see her dreams of Orangina and chocolate brownie go up in smoke.  As any father worth his salt, I make sure we find somewhere else. We ended up going to Evil M (or Mac Donalds for the uninitiated). It was during this outing that I took the photos of the huge crane.

I made it up to her this Saturday by going into town and having tea at Chop Chop.  She had a hot chocolate, and I had French Earl Grey tea. We also had a Brookie. It is a concoction which is a mixture of chocolate brownie and chocolate chip cookie.  It’s the kind of thing that makes you put on weight by just looking at it. Bad, and yet so good at the same time.

Now this week I decided to go back to the cathedral for mass.  I was seeing a different friend this time, and we hadn’t seen each other for about a year for various reasons, but she got me when she said she’d baked a cake!  A rather nice one too. I said I would bring the tea. 

The French are great with food, and cake, but tea is not their forte!  Every time I go back to the UK I always stock up Yorkshire tea, which is like drinking a cup of home each time I make a cuppa.  My friend is Algerian and appreciates tea about as much as I do. It’s always the small things you miss. It has been known for me to spend a lot of time and effort just to go and find that little something.  When we were on holiday in Honfleur this Summer, they had an English section in the local supermarket. Needless to say, the children and I bought a big bag full of stuff, and had to go back to get what my French wife had told us to get…  Oops.

Soooo…  We talked, drank tea, ate cake, talked again, drank more tea, and ate more cake.  I can’t think of a better way to spend an afternoon when the weather is so depressing outside.  However I didn’t make the same mistake as I did last time. Oh no. I had learnt my lesson. I peed before going off to mass.  I made sure I had enough time not to have to walk at a brisk pace and with purpose. The service was lovely and the music was amazing.  It adds so much to the mass, and the organist played at the end of mass while I said my rosary. I left the cathedral and headed off to get a burger.

In the street where the pub is, there’s a new place that sells vegan burgers, and it’s such a refreshing change, and the owner is a great guy.  And as I’m a well brought up gentleman I went to the pub to say hello to my friends working behind the bar. Again, that is the only excuse you’re going to get.

Happy birthday Gilet Jaunes

I’m writing this in a theatre before the tune up begins in about half an hour’s time. I was thinking back to yesterday and going out to Nantes to take a couple of photos.

I was in a foul mood on Friday; a colleague who was a nice bloke and all round good egg has just resigned and Friday was his last day. Plans have been put in place to find an “interim” solution which means more work for me and somebody else doing the forklift work. I’m not sure it will work as well. Anyway! That’s my problem and not yours, but explains why I needed to get out and do some photography.

Some of you might have heard of the Gilet Jaune movement or Yellow Vest movement in English. It was responsible for a few demonstrations that gradually became part of every day life in France. I had forgotten that yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the movement. They hadn’t, and neither had the police.

As I came into town I could see a whole load of police vans parked up in front of the castle. I thought that for a sightseeing trip it was a bit strange. I parked the car in the underground carpark and as I came out onto the street I did what I always do. I check my camera settings and take my first couple of photos.

It was foggy that day and I could see people heading towards me. They were crying. The fog gave some lovely photos. Very atmospheric. Lkke having a smoke machine on a film set. And then I started crying. The emotion of it all? No. Tear gas.

I’d seen worse, and a very nice young lady gave me some water to rinse my eyes. You see, the president has brought the population together but maybe not in the way he hoped.

It must have been around 17h. I had to be at mass for 18h on the other side of the Cours des 50 Hotages. The only problem was the police and demonstrators had decided to play silly buggers and take the mickey out of each other. More gas. I asked one of the policeman dressed in a rather fetching black number did he think it was possible to cross the road and be in time for mass… He thought it would be possible. That bloody chicken never had any problems crossing the road.

I eventually crossed the road and started talking to a couple of Turkish guys. They said what a very well mannered and elegant demonstration it was. Well, this is France after all. But that the riot police looked pretty hardcore, which in all fairness is true! The demonstrators moved forward. As did the police. Then the police put the smoke machine back on.

I dragged myself off to mass and it was lovely until a guy, either drunk, or high, or both came in. Strangely enough I was more enraged by the fact that he hadn’t taken his hat off. I left my seat, genuflected, and gave him my arm as we walked down the aisle. It must have been a really pretty picture of the happy couple. People looked on with relief as they didn’t have to do the dirty work.

I opened the door and told him to sober up first and then it might be possible to talk and not to interrupt the people at prayer. As I came back in there was a man who said thank you, as there a four doors to the church and how he can only cover two doors at a time. He thanked me and my new friend tried to come back in. I marched him out gently again. At the end of mass I saw the gentleman who had thanked me. Apparently our friend had come in three times by different doors. Never dull in ‘Ull, or Nantes either.

Mass finished and I headed towards the pub to say hello to everyone and get a bite to eat before going home. The car was parked nearby too and that’s the only excuse you’re getting!

The photos for the day were taken with the Canon 6D Mark ii and the vintage lens Pentacon 50mm f1.8. The older lenses give you a different feel and effect. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to comment…

Nantes in Novembre

Halloween has come and gone and the countdown to Christmas has begun, but no trees until at the earliest the beginning of Advent or at the latest St Nicholas’ Day.

The weather is now officially miserable and rainy. And with the hour having gone back the nights seem to be staring earlier. The rain is not proper rain, but drizzle. It’s not cold yet but the humidity is making itself known. As I drive though the country I can see leaves changing colours, falling and turning into mush along the roads. I can see mushrooms sprouting out of nowhere and remember not to take them from fields that have had crops in them.

It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to dive in to a cafe, and have a nice cup of tea and piece of cake. The French are making great efforts at tea, and though not up to Yorkshire standards, it is becoming more and more drinkable. I have stocked up on Yorkshire Tea pre-Brexit, so should be good for a while. Thank heavens for extensions!!

For the photographers amongst us we are facing the other challenges that Autumn sends our way. Bad light, rain, and worrying about getting our gear wet. I still think it’s worth going out though. You might think that you need the sun, the good light, the warmth of Summer or Spring, but each season has it’s own particular beauty and deserves its place in our photographic collection. The soft light will lead to less contrasty images, and you will have to think more about the scene in front of you.

Photographs are like ideas. They are there waiting to be picked and put down on paper, or on screens, and shared. Are we really inventing and creating or are we merely recording what is there?

People have accused me of being and artist, and I have told them that I am nothing more than an observer and documentalist.

I have heard a definition of art saying that art is the transformation of matter by the artist into something new. Drawing is taking the graphite in the pencil and applying it to a page, painting is taking the pigments, putting them into a medium, be it oil, acrylic, or water, and applying them to another medium, be that paper, canvas, or anything else that will let the paint stick to it.

Now in photography one could argue that the matter is light, that we apply to a film in our carmera or our sensor… I see people creating things either in the darkroom or on the computer. Is it art? Possibly. But I feel that what I do isn’t. I do some minimal editing, the basics if you will, reframe and then publish. I might apply some of the basic rules of art to my photographs, but does that make me an artist? I don’t really think so.

When I was studying the horn, yes dear reader, for my sins I am a musician also, I was told that when you play your concerto in front of an audience, you are reciting the text on the page of music before you. The phrasing is given by the composer, as well as indications of nuance and dynamics. Alright, not before the classical period, but they followed conventions that were deem so self evident that there was no point in writing them down… so! I play my concerto. The audience may listen to it and maybe moved by the composer’s music, and when they clap at the end, or throw bottles of beer etc., is it due to the music, or just my playing of it? I won’t be as prideful to say it’s my playing. I am just reproducing what is on my page. The same things goes for photographs.

Once that concerto, or photo is out there, it is no longer mine. It belongs to the audience or you, the viewer. It might inspire an emotive response, but it is not me, it is your response to the stimulus before you. It might remind you of something. It might spark that souvenir from the past that I talked about in my last article. You might even interpret it in some way that I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

The photos were taken on the x100f. I’m off to mass so I will love you and leave you. I hope you enjoy looking through these photographic offerings.

Lourdes.

For those of you who don’t know Lourdes, let me tell you about it. It is no ordinary place, and there is a feeling of profound hope, and healing, that strikes you immediately. There are mountains, souvenir shops for Catholic pilgrims, and the sanctuary itself.

Oh. I said that “C” word again. Except this one doesn’t rhyme with “punt.” I am unashamedly Catholic, and had drifted from the church, but I wanted to drift back.

When people go on pilgrimages, even unofficial ones like this, we talk about the voyage being almost as important as the destination. This is, of course, not just the physical journey, but the mental, and spiritual voyage also. I’ve wanted to return to Lourdes since I was 9, and this time I took my son with me.

As a parent you can only do so much, and part of my faith is to know that I can’t control everything in my life, let alone in the lives of others, and that there is something else that is beyond my comprehension. I wanted to help my son in his life, and despite maintaining a dialogue, I had done as much as I could. I could do no more, so I asked Our Lady to look after him. We all need a mother, and most of the Jewish people that I know, seem to agree that a Jewish mother is the best. And you don’t need to be a Jewish to be a Jewish mother. It’s a state of mind. And if God decided on a Jewish mother for His Son, then it was good enough for me. As a Catholic, we see Mary as being a mother to all of us. So when the proverbial **** hits the fan, you ask your Mum if she can help, before you ask your (heavenly) Father. Mums have a way of talking to Dads that help make things alright.

That’s something I understood once I became a father myself. God has that relationship with us. In Judaism, and Christianity, He does anyway. A father loves his child. Even when that child is “naughty,” we still love them. We might punish them, but we always want to forgive them. God is the same with us. You could argue that it’s a way of showing humanity through divinity.

Wow, this got heavy all of a sudden!

Anyway. I went to Lourdes to try and reconcile myself with God. To ask forgiveness for my many sins, to make reparation, to heal, and to try and return towards my Father. We do this with our own fathers here on earth, and so it was the same process for my soul. Does that make sense?

My son was my carer, and he did his job admirably. He also benefitted from his trip. In the Sanctuary there is an overwhelming sense of peace. We went to the grotto, and prayed. We did the night time procession and recited the rosary holding our candles. We bathed in the baths with the water from the source that appeared when Mary asked Saint Bernadette to dig. That source is still there and provides water for the many pilgrims. We put some of that water into bottles to take home with us. I went to Confession.

We also went up a mountain, and came down again. It was almost as much a religious experience as the rest of the pilgrimage. When Moses goes up the mountain to receive the ten commandments it is to be closer to God. At the top of that mountain we saw a nun talking to a young friend. They were laughing and taking selfies. We saw a priest praying from his Brievery. It was a moving experience seeing the cloud coming over the summit. We saw the clouds clear, and we looked over the valley to the other mountains. I still don’t understand how people can look at that scenery and doubt the existence of a creator.

Anyway. Let’s talk about the photos. They were taken with the X100F which is compact enough not to be noticed, and a little less heavy than my DSLR and all the lenses that I use with it. It limits me, but makes it all simpler. No unnecessary questions about which lens to use etc. Feel free to comment on the article or the photos. Any feedback is always welcome.