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!
Sometimes you just want to spend time alone, not because you hate other people, even if I sometimes find it difficult to love my fellow man. People, or too many people, or people that are too intense just leave me shattered, and ready for an emotional breakdown. My mother in law is one of those people. She is the polar opposite of me. She loves people, loves the gossip, can’t stand her first husband or any other of her ex’s, and her opinions on everything are the exact opposite of mine. Could this be her calling in life? Is she there just to make me question my own beliefs and reinforce them, or is she just a pain in the arse? Possibly both…
Last weekend the idea was that we go up and see her. At first, it was going to be my wife and son, but not my daughter, and then it became my wife and I without the children. I must be a glutton for punishment. Killian had been using my car as an extension of his room to store his crap in since he left the girlfriend. I was getting sick of the whole thing and said if he didn’t get my car sorted then I wouldn’t be going either. The little bugger got all the stuff in my car out, and so I had no choice. Shit!
I have talked about the way I either need 10 pints worth of Heineken (other beers do exist) or Prozac to be able to deal with my mother-in-law. And how this technique has evolved into being stone, cold, sober. Not as fun but allows me to get in the car if things get too intense, escape, leave, and do some photography.
As it was Sunday, I went off to mass at the local Benedictine monastery. This is because I genuinely wanted to go to mass and fulfil my domincal obligations to keep the Sabbath holy. It was also my Dad’s birthday, so I would be able to call and sing him Happy Birthday.
No, I would not be back for lunch as I would be out doing some photography, and having some Ian time, to partake in my number one solitary pastime; photography of course, what else? But don’t worry about me for lunch, I will look after myself…. On the Quiberon peninsular, they have what they refer to as the Côte Sauvage, or the Wild Coast. Despite the high temperatures, we have to pinch ourselves to remind us that it actually autumn, and the end of October. However, on this Wild Coast you were left in no doubt which season we were in despite the warmth. Very slightly breezy, so I really did need my cane, and I found the white horses on the waves as they came crashing down on the shore against the rocks so beautiful. You can really feel the power of the ocean as those waves come in. It reminds you on how small you are, compared to God’s creation.
Despite the wildness of the coast, the ocean, and the waves, I managed to find my peace…
Dear Reader, some of you might know that I don’t live too far away from Nantes and that I can be found wandering the streets of Nantes with a camera, or sitting in the pub talking with friends. So, nothing new here then. You might not know that I sometimes publish said photos of Nantes, and even the pub, with friends of course, on Instagram. I also sometimes go out and participate with other photographers in what is usually a solitary pastime.
Nantes Grand Angle, a sort of collective of photographers from Nantes, often has events (with local partners) that want to get their event onto the local social networks and get some “viral” publicity. The game is you go to the event and then talk about it on your social accounts and people might be interested thinking well, he went to see this, why don’t I go along too. It’s the basics of social marketing.
Why do I usually see photography as a solitary pastime? Because I get a certain amount of social anxiety. For most extroverts, those pushy people that are in favour now, the word “mingle” gives them a buzz that they seem to thrive on. I, as an introvert, find the words “new people”, or even the idea of “meeting new people”, “social”, or “mingle” just fill me with dread. It’s akin to going on one of those terrifying rides at the fair. It’s scary, thankfully doesn’t last very long, leaves you feeling empty, very awkward, sheepish, and makes you want to run away as soon as possible. sonds like my sex life on a good day.
So against my better judgement, I confronted my fear, and went on an outing with Nantes Grand Angle. I could always just stay at the back and be subtle and try to fade into the background. It also meant that I would visit a new place, Le Lieu Unique, which as its name might suggest, is certainly unique! The Lieu Unique also contains the Tour Lu (sans T pour le jeu de mot de merde en français, et oui, je suis rendu à ce point là !) It originally house the LU biscuit factory (des petits beurres de LU, which is another pun for the Happy Birthday song). Dear Reader, I apologise for the years of therapy that you will need to get over that last paragraph. It’ll teach you to speak French!
Right, back on track. The Lieu Unique, which indeed is unique as the name suggests, houses not only an exhibition for introverts to take photos of for social marketing, but a bar, a reading room, a bookshop, and if I’m not mistaken, a hammam, as well as a whopping great tower. It is a hothouse of culture where you can get fed, drunk, steamed, and get some culture, leading to the acquisition of a little intelligence! Maybe, depending on the order you do each activity.
I was there with my fellow photographers, some of which were annoyingly extrovert, to live the experience of Art from Taiwan in the “Eye of the Cyclone.” The Lieu Unique boss, had, uniquely, gone to Taiwan in 2018, had been to an exhibition at The National Museum of Fine Arts of Taiwan, and had invited some of the artists to come to Nantes and show their work, purely an artistic venture. Since 2018, the world has changed not only through COVID, but also because China would like to get its hands on Taiwan for economic reasons and political ones. Taiwan came to the front in modern terms when the Kuomintang government who lost to Mao’s Communists, fled Mao and fled to the Island of Taiwan, setting up a new independent government, that China still hasn’t gotten over and is still very upset about.
In the early 1960s, Taiwan entered a period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation called the “Taiwan Miracle». In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ROC transitioned from a one-party military dictatorship to a multi-party democracy with a semi-presidential system. Taiwan’s export-oriented industrial economy is the 21st-largest in the world by nominal GDP and 19th-largest by PPP measures, focusing on steel, machinery, electronics and chemicals manufacturing. Taiwan is a developed country, ranking 20th in GDP per capita. It is ranked highly in terms of civil liberties, healthcare, and human development. Again, something that China isn’t overjoyed by. So as you can imagine, such an exhibition is as much political as artistic.
So now we have set the scene, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The expo itself. I admit not knowing a huge amount about Taiwan, however, since visiting the expo, I have read up to find out more about its history and culture. It’s Chinese but at the same time properly Taiwanese. I will include official links to the expo and the English documentation at the end of the article. But what I really wanted to do with this article was to talk about my experience of the exposition and the way the exhibits left their mark on me.
The first exhibit, Exhibit A, or Battle City – Scene, by Chang, Li-Ren, model, just blew me away with the complexity of the modelling and the realism recreated in model form. The artist came over for the oeuvre installation and I can imagine a rather rotund Asian chap on all fours adding details to his masterwork. Not based on reality, but the artist just wants to give an impression of what Taiwanese urbanism looks like. There are cars, housing, and motorbikes, but the whole place is devoid of people. It’s very eerie, yet totally fascinating and a photographer’s dream. The whole thing is massive (7600mm x 8100mm x 2600mm), and the attention to detail is fascinating.
Exhibit B, Future Shock, by SU Hui-Yu, video, talks about a dystopian future, unfortunately, a not-too-distant future according to the artist influenced heavily by the American author Alvin Toffler, where people are drowning in information, and unethical technologies. Maybe it’s happening already? Definitely though provoking and frightening in equal measure.
Exhibit C, Braindead travelogue, YUAN Goang-Ming. At first, you have the impression of traditional Chinese brush art, but with non-traditional means, like using markers, but also gold and jade. From the centre of the painting, shoot out 10 disks of images showing the artist marking his territory in the landscape.
Exhibit D? I’m going to keep the rest of the exhibition secret, because the idea is that you go and have a look yourselves, especially if you live in Nantes! Did you really think that I would or could reveal all? No! Leave them wanting more!!! Oh ok, you can have a few more pictures, but that’s your lot. Go down there and have a look. It’s free to visit; and you won’t be left unmoved… You really get a feel of what life is like in the “Eye of the Cyclone.”
I would like to thank Nantes Grande Angle and our guide, Tanguy, not only for his welcome to the uniquely Lieu Unique but also for his great expertise. The poor man even had a look at this blog to see where I would publish my write-up. Brave too, and probably already in therapy. I hope I have done him justice!
Dear Reader, in my last article I said I would try and get some more photos for your delectation. On Saturday I was in a rehearsal room all afternoon playing for a new orchestra. The Symphonique des Bords de Loire, which basically means on the river Loire just south of Nantes.
The Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet have just just changed musical direction, and all of a sudden I was looking for a new direction (not the pop group), so I seized the opportunity to make a change and start playing some more “classical” music in a different setting. I of course wish them the best of luck with their new conductor.
So that’s where I was on Saturday afternoon and so wasn’t really busy capturing images with my new toy.
My wife has decided to get to some Spring cleaning. Who ever said you can’t do autumnal Spring cleaning? Vive la différence! My cleaning skills despite military training in the early nineties have been declared not up to my wife’s standards and methods so my apparent incompetance is your gain, and also allows me to be out taking photographs with my new toy, the 12mm TT Artisan fish-eye lens on the Fujifilm XT2. At least I’m doing something creative instead of getting shouted out for being bloody useless.
So, I am now in town taking photos at the Hangar à Bananes which is seriously lacking in bananas before going to Sunday night mass, and looking after my soul. You get a different kind of crowd on a Sunday night and it feels a little more exclusive. I will then proceed to the pub for a pint of Guninness to look after the Guinness family, and to continue to drink the pub dry one pint at a time. This is a life long quest so I can take my time instead of do it all in one session. I suspect that they might being re-supplied before I can dent their stock. I suppose it’s just a feeble excuse to go to see my friends and talk bollocks all night.
Here is the photographic evidence of the time spent this afternoon pursuing artistic endeavours!
Dear Reader, you know how in the past I have talked about how some of us love the big massive telephoto lenses? And how others like to go wider? And how we start of with the “nifty fifty” F1.8 and learn on that? That was in the days before digital photography and a world where zoom lenses came to the fore. We had them before in the days of film photography, but my memories are of using these prime lenses, and zooms seemed to be looked down on. I wanted to go wider.
I remember my first proper photography course where I learnt the basics of film photography, going from taking the photo, developing the film, and getting a print as an end result. I remember seeing a photo of a horse taken with a massive head taken with a wide-angled lens and finding it fascinating! When I said the head was massive, the lens deformed our view of this majestic beast and its body seemed smaller than its head, which is something indeed. It was then that I learnt a photograph doesn’t have to represent a visual that is faithful to the subject. We can mess around with reality and show the world completely differently.
So, as I said, I learnt photography with a 50mm lens. These 50mm seem to be closest to how the human eye sees the world. It represents reality. In 2018 I acquired the Fujifilm X100F which has a lens equivalent to a 35mm lens. Slightly wider, but still represents the reality of this world, and is considered “the” street photography lens par excellence. It has a larger angle of view and allows me to get a little more in the frame and I felt the difference with the 50mm straight away. It was still a great lens and very versatile until I tried taking a close-up portrait. All of a sudden, I discovered some distortion in my model. I’m not saying that my model is deformed, well, no more deformed than any of us.
Suddenly watching YouTube, as many of us do apparently, I discovered the 16-35mm F4 lens from Canon for my Canon 6D Mark II. It was a little more than I had ever paid for a lens, but worth every centime of euro and so satisfying. If you care to have a look in the archives of this blog on my Instagram feed, you will discover many photos taken with this lens. My desire to go wider was now a reality. Distortion of reality was now in my hands. I could create interesting images. I discovered the way a very wide-angled lens can transform the world around us. Leading lines exist all over the place, and the wide-angled lens exaggerates each line, leading or not!
But, and this is a big but. You fellas can’t deny… It is possible to go wider. I know. Exciting isn’t it! My mind is now blown! There is a lens, a very special lens, called a fish-eye lens. This type of lens can offer you even more distortion and make the world seem even weirder than it already is! Canon does one. It’s a 15-8mm zoom lens. There are two types of fish-eye lenses. One will give a rectangular view, however distorted, and one will give a round image with a black frame. It’s a wonderful piece of engineering and for over €1000 it can be yours. But for €1000 it can’t be mine simply because I can’t justify spending that much money on camera kit and might even be cause for divorce. Since it is cheaper to keep her, I would have to look elsewhere instead of buying a super duper automatic lens from Canon. So like any self-respecting poor photographer I went onto Amazon and found a manual lens for my Fujifilm XT2 (like the famous X100F except I can change lenses) for 169€ which is slightly cheaper and a slightly more reasonable purchase, and my dear wife didn’t bat an eyelid! Not batting and eyelid is a very desirable reaction!!!
I will go out this afternoon to test this new toy and get back to you with some pictures!
Everyone seems to ask that question after the summer holidays when we take leave from our daily toils and worries, and maybe for a week or two, we can create our own little paradise on earth. Some make it to a hotel next to the ocean and enjoy the sun’s warmth on their skin, whereas others will find a boat and spend time in the ocean trying to stay cool. Others will drive all over making that Grand Tour that the Victorians made. Others will be at work keeping the country going. Others will be fighting fires in the Gironde because of somebody’s carelessness in this heat wave, which I wouldn’t really call a wave but rather a smack around the face, with the heat taking away our comfort, our sleep, our water, our rivers, and our gardens.
Whatever your summer, I hope you could find moments of cool, in the figurative and literal senses. What can I tell you about my summer? In four days, I go back to work to start the humdrum of my daily life, and in these remaining four days of freedom, I seem to look back over the previous three weeks wondering where it all went!
It went off to the UK, that’s where it went. I haven’t been back home since 2019 and it was about bloody time that I got back to my roots. Living without roots or being able to feel rooted somewhere that one calls home is an idea that only immigrants can really get their heads around. They left their homes, sometimes forced by evil and unfortunate circumstances, and for others, it was for love and freely entered into. I was lucky to be in the latter category. But it’s still amazing to get back home.
With modern technology, I can call my parents on the phone when I want to, and do so a few times a week. I can hear their voices, but it’s not the same as taking them in my arms and hugging them and really showing them how much I love them. Only when in their presence can I do that. And as none of us is getting any younger, one has the morbid thought, will this be the last time I see them? I tend not to dwell on this rather disturbing question, but one still asks it.
I found a country where everyone speaks the same language as me and where my wife and daughter seemed to cope with what I do every day (ie speaking a foreign language) and maybe it gave them the chance to walk around in my shoes for a while, as Atticus Finch once said in a book a long time ago.
I found a country that had gone through Brexit, Covid, and yet further Tory government and it looked more or less the same. Tired, pissed off, but still exquisite to my eyes. And most of all, it was home. The Germans talk about this concept of Heimat, home, but not quite. It’s more akin to a motherland, or a place where you are rooted. Some could argue that after nearly 30 years in France, France should be my Heimat, and although I am very grateful to have been “welcomed” to France, it certainly isn’t home, despite all the best intentions.
Anyway! I saw my parents in Alnmouth and surprisingly took some photos. They haven’t all been edited yet, as I have to sort and edit them, which will be a hefty job. We didn’t really go wandering like we have in the past, but just tried to relax in the comparative cool of Northumbria. I wandered around the village and even was as bold enough as to go into Alnwick and let my daughter discover Superdrug’s cosmetics counter! Ah well, it was going to happen one day.
I had some time with my father as we drove towards Otterburn to get some landscape photos. It was lovely just sharing with him how I take my photos and seeing this part of me that few people see. We ate with my parents and enjoyed curries, Chinese food, and the tastiest of Sunday roasts. My daughter, that intriguing and sometimes frightening creature, discovered more of her father’s country and just how special it is.
As some of you may know, I am adopted and have been since three weeks after my birth. The story of all that, Dear Reader, is understandably only for those concerned, and during our time in Alnmouth, I had the good fortune to see my birth mother and my half-sister for the day. Afternoon tea and we even had crumpets with salted butter and jam, and tea. Coffee is fine, but tea in the UK takes you to what heaven must feel like!
On our way back south towards France, we stopped off to see my birth mother again. It felt so intimate being able to visit her in her own home. My half-brother’s daughters were there to meet not only me but probably more Kate, their half-cousin who by definition is exotic because she is French! They have, of course, received an open invitation to come over whenever they like. We even saw my Aunty Margie, whom I hadn’t seen for over 5 years.
Then down to Hull to see my father’s side of the family. My cousin Nick and his wife, Maria, received us like kings and I will be ever grateful to him for organising the family reunion where 23 of us gathered in his immaculate back garden. A couple of beers were drunk that day. The following day it was off to see Aunty Mon, and Kate was delighted to see me being scolded as I answered a question for her. Nobody messes around with Aunty Mon! We met up with Nick and Maria in the next village for a pub lunch, with the traditional and nigh quasi obligatory roast dinner! Those two pints of Yorkshire bitter just helped wash down the meal in the most tasteful way.
Sadly, we had to continue our voyage down South and ended up in Dover, where the next day, we were to catch our ferry back to France. We met up with my wife’s cousin for dinner in our hotel, and they discussed everything about family, from gossip to scandal, to the next generation who will carry the family name.
We arrived home and found my newly single son at home and Molly, the dog who have both been sorely missed.
As I read the article, there is one word that seems to stand out, and that word is family. These holidays had nothing to do with visiting tourist sights. It did, however, have everything to do about renewing connections to those most important in our lives after Covid had separated us for so long. That is what the holidays meant to me. I became rooted in my country, my culture, and my family. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to see old friends, but everyone knows that family has to come first. It’s what gives us our sense of being and belonging. It is the visible form of our roots on God’s Earth, however warm that earth might feel during an exceptionally warm summer.
May God bless you and your families, bring you together, heal the eventual discords, and give you too a feeling of being grounded after so long.
Do you know how sometimes an event in time keeps you going? It could be getting home after work, leaving work for lunch, or even having a cup of tea and a slice of something nice from the bakery. What kept me going was the idea of seeing friends, two friends that I had not seen since COVID. It was Vanessa’s 50th birthday and Dominic, her husband, thought it would be a wonderful idea to take her to Paris for an entire week. I suggested it might be an idea to meet up in Paris and that I would come with my wife. Overnight stay so we could have an evening out and not have to worry about getting a train whilst slightly squiffy!
I haven’t been home since 2019, and this was like a bit of homecoming to see me. I met Dom 39 years ago when I left boarding school and went back into state Catholic education in my hometown. In between getting my head kicked in by various other pupils at the school, we became friends. This continued through school, and we found each other on Facebook whilst doing the whole nostalgia thing. But the friendship from our childhood still held strong. I met up with him when we were in the UK in 2019 for a week. It was as if time had just gone out to pee, and just came back as if the intervening 35 years just didn’t happen! I think the fundamentals of our personalities and character traits don’t change all that much, but despite life experience, these fundamentals remain constant.
So when he told me about the Paris trip I thought, well, my wife and I know a bit about Paris, and what a perfect excuse to go up to the Capital and have some fun. Let’s just say that my wife does not share my passion for Paris. The biggest part of it is having grown up there, and only seeing the downside. She once went back with my son when he was little and after having spent time out in the country. It all felt foreign to her, and the icing on the cake was almost falling for a tourist scam. She had become a human being. Since that encounter, she gets worked up at the idea of going to Paris. She let slip that she felt she couldn’t come with me and that I would go alone. Not as a slight to Vinnie and Dominic, but because she would make my life a living hell.
So there you are. I would go on my own. I have a friend from Nantes called Sergio, who lives in Paris at the moment, and I added him to the group chat and he was full of ideas about where to eat and not too expensive places either. It would be good to see friends and introduce old friends to less old friends.
I booked my train and then got emotional about the high prices of Parisian hotels. I ended up finding one, reasonably priced, and just next to the Montparnasse train station where the high-speed trains from the West of France arrive in Paris. In between the actual booking and getting on the train, the entire trip kept me going. I was in a great mood. It was like escaping from real life for the space of one weekend.
My wife took me to the station, I found the platform, scanned my ticket on my phone, and was let through. The booking was for 1st class not because I’m fancy, but for €10 extra, you get a quiet carriage and a larger, more comfy seat. At the very ripe age of 50, and being a slightly rotund gentleman, and I thought the €10 was worth every penny, or centime d’euro. I told the group chat how my train had left on time and that I would be in Paris at Montparnasse at such-and-such a time. Nothing more to do than watch YouTube on my tablet and try to find places to visit and magnificent tables to eat at. I waited an hour at Montparnasse, waiting for Dom and Vanessa to arrive. They seem to be less good at using the metro than I am. Then we played the game of finding the metro exit. With modern technology, photos and smartphones, we found each other and headed off to my hotel to get rid of my bag, as my room wouldn’t be ready. Whilst chatting and walking to a café, Vanessa spied a smoked salmon bagel. I spied it too, and we went in a got it for her. Dominic had a chicken curry sandwich, and I spied with my little eye a chocolate macaron. Did I ever say that I have a weakness for cake?
We settled at the “Café Montparnasse“, sat down on the terrace, had a beer, and then judged people walking by. So it would not be a dry weekend. Ah well! Somehow, with the metro, we ended up at Le Bon Marché, where I wanted to get some lovely socks. Yes, I’m 50, slightly rotund, and like a certain brand of socks, which were in the sales. Don’t judge me! Vanessa found some very nice perfume and treated herself. You’re only 50 once! We found the Grande Epicerie. Mind you, it was just across the road, so not overly difficult to find either. It had everything that we needed for our picnic, including bread, wine, and various goodies, that were perfect for a Parisian picnic. They were both very impressed! Sounds good to me.
We visited the convent where the Miraculous Medal was revealed to Soeur Catherine Labouré. Now I knew all about it and had visited it last time with Killian. We got the article up on Dominic’s phone, and they were both suitably impressed. Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s an exquisite place and well worth visiting.
Sergio told us about the Convent gardens as a great place to picnic. We found a seat in the shade, and out came the Opinel and corkscrew. We opened the Bergerac 2016, and it was right up Vanessa’s wine street. Even Dom liked it. I’d chosen a bottle of Muscadet for him for later. We ate, drank, and just talked the time away. Can’t think of a better way to spend time.
Well, actually I can. I had been a good boy and was therefore allowed a treat. Not too far from the convent was a bakery. That’s not much of a surprise. We are in France, after all. But this one was owned by celebrity Patissier Cyrille Lignac. I had heard great things about this place and had been convinced by Sergio to give it a visit. He knows of my weakness for cakes. The cakes on offer were exquisite as they should be, but they seemed to have even more class! They looked beautiful. I’m a fan of chocolate cake and nearly had one, but the Raspberry tart was just screaming out at me. I bought it and spent maybe too much time thinking about how it was going to be lovely to sink my teeth into.
We headed gently back to my hotel so I could check in and I changed shirts and freshened up but tried to hurry about it as Dominic and Vanessa were waiting downstairs for me. The room was fine, not huge, and the bed seemed as if it would be comfortable, which is always good.
Our venue for dinner that night would be the Café Montparnasse, which is one of those typical Parisian Bistrots with good food and excellent drinks and where you don’t feel judged by the waiter. I can’t remember what time it was, but it was too late for tea and not quite time for dinner. However, the French, in their infinite wisdom, have given the world the Apéro, or pre-dinner drinks. You get a little something to nibble on too. We told the waiter that despite the three of us, there would be a fourth person joining us. The gentleman led us to our table on the café terrasse. We ordered our drinks and got back to “juger les gens et mater les culs.”
Sergio, thanks to his parents, is Mexican and can have a slightly different idea of time from us, more northern Europeans. The French also have this concept of having a drink to make the absent person arrive more quickly. Again, pure genius. By drink number three, Sergio arrived. Vanessa and Dom were very English in greeting him, and I, of course, was very French and gave him “la bise.” Google it. The more time went on, and the more drinks we had, the camper Sergio got, and it was such a pleasure seeing them all getting on so well. Dominic had Chicken and chips, but French poulet in a nice sauce, and some frites, if I remember correctly, which is not something I’m good at, I think Vanessa had something quite healthy like a salad, and Sergio and I had fish quenelles, which were just divine. Vanessa and Sergio have a common love for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” and were quoting whole chunks of it, and debating the veracity of the language. It had been decided, after our lovely meal, that we would seal our friendship by having a nightcap somewhere along the Boulevard Montparnasse. I found my church for the mass the next morning, which thankfully was at 11am. Vanessa let slip that she had been a majorette and took my cane to show Sergio how to twirl. Sergio’s life goal is now to become a majorette! We said goodbyes, and I went to my hotel to get some sleep and be ready for the next day’s activities. Dear Reader, you will have to be patient, and wait for me to write part 2!
Dear Reader, I may have mentioned before in previous articles that for my many sins, and to curb my pride, I am a musician, and some might even go further still, and remind me I am a horn player. As a musician, we can have a tendency to “do” concerts and play in them, rather than going along as a listener. I mean, of course, that we listen to our fellow musicians, especially when playing that music together. It is a team effort, after all. But not as a spectator.
Little did I know that when I went to taste some homemade beer at my friend Hervé’s house, he would invite me to take some photos of a concert he was playing in, on the 18th of June. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity. An evening of taking photos and getting to listen to live music at the same time? What a way to spend the hottest day of the year so far!
We were rehearsing together the following Friday, and he said to be at his house at such-and-such a time, and that I should just park up in the driveway. There would also be my old and very much revered horn teacher, as in my previous horn teacher, and not my old new horn teacher, nor a teacher that is old despite his great wisdom. But that is a story for another day. Hervé was going to drive us to the concert. Jérôme, my very much revered horn teacher, plays in the same ensemble as Hervé. They are members of the Brass Quintet Arabesque, made up of instrument teachers from across my particular region of France.
So, I got into the car, turned on the ignition, saw the temperature, and promptly melted. 44°C! For those who only work in Fahrenheit, body temperature is 37°C, and 44°C is 111°F. My point exactly. By the time I reached Hervé’s house, it was a mere 40°C. A tad warm, even for me!
I drove up, parked, saw my horn teacher in very summery attire, but always with a hat, saunter up, and Smaug, the family Labrador, who you remember from my last article, who does not know what sauntering is about, just ran around the car three times and jumped up to say hello, being as friendly as ever. Bless him! We quickly went inside into the shade and cool. I do like a bit of cool from time to time.
We eventually got all the kit together in the car, thanks again Hervé for doing all the driving, and set off. The way to Guérande isn’t very complicated, and it’s pretty plain sailing. We talked about everything and nothing, about my presence at the Wind Band next year, and what alternatives I could think of, about the photoshoot from the previous week, about the various instruments and would we change instrument, how much it might cost to change, and what newer instruments could bring to the table, or should I say rehearsal room…
Parking in Guérande was a doddle, and we headed to the Collégiale, or church inside the medieval walls. We dropped everything off in the church, and things suddenly became very serious. Where would we eat? The first place we tried, a creperie, was no longer serving food, so we headed to Plan B. Plan B was fully booked, but was able to fit us in. Five brass musicians, one organist, and yours truly. Luckily I don’t seem to take up much space. Simon said he had to go and shave and came back with blood on his face. Michel, the organist that would be playing with the quintet, told us that the organ in that building needed a makeover and was basically shite. Out of tune, and half of it didn’t work. That’s something you don’t really want to hear when you don’t have a huge amount of time to have the pre-concert setup and run through. Another thing you don’t want to hear is that you’re all going to have to tune your instruments up to 444hz. This basically means you’re all fecked because your instruments have been in slightly warm cars. After all, it’s boiling outside and you’ll just never make it. The brass expands in the heat and therefore will sound flatter, and at 444hz you really need to be on the sharper side. It’s a bit like me trying to walk past a slice of cake and a nice cup of tea; it’s just not going to happen… Luckily the food arrived, as did the beers, and the puds. We were happy. I had all my camera gear, and most importantly plenty of batteries in case the batteries inside the cameras gave up the will to live. Some lovely shots were begging to be taken outside the church.
What I didn’t have, especially inside the church, was a whole lot of light. For photography, light is quite important. Understatement of the year contender again… This was going to be interesting. I had been fed by Arabesque, and now there was bugger all light inside, so photography was going to be a tad tricky.
Luckily, somebody turned on the lights and I was saved. Who said miracles never happen in the Catholic Church? They did this evening. The only photos I could take were before the concert actually began because afterwards the church would fall into darkness as there was going to be drone footage shown on a screen behind the Quintet as they played, showing the church in which they were playing. This was the main idea behind the concert. Through music and film, show people the church they were in from a slightly different viewpoint. It was great just to sit and take in the music. And take in the music I did. I was always told the importance of concert-going to musicians and how it helps us develop musically in so many ways. I only had to make an effort to sit there, make no noise, and just listen and be captivated. And captivated I was! I thought the tuning was fine and not at all the catastrophe announced by the organist. But I was just here to listen to some quality sounds and not to be a critic from the Times
The first half finished with the Toccata by Charles Marie Widor from his Organ symphony number 5. Any pedal notes that were missing from the organ were amply covered by the bass notes of the tuba that seem to just go right through you. It’s also a piece of music that has, amongst others, the ability to make my eye become all watery with emotion. I’ll leave it here for you to listen to.
The interval arrived. I say that but it didn’t really make an entrance. It just happened. The public was invited to walk around the church and rediscover images from the film in real life. They could also purchase CDs of the Quintet. 10€ each, or 20€ for three. They could also subscribe and have a CD of the programme, as well as make a contribution to the Association Résonnance, who gave their name to the entire project. It also meant that I could take more ambience photos and not be in anybody’s way.
Up until then, I had been using the Canon 6D Mark II which makes a tremendous noise when the mirror moves up to expose the sensor. I was worried that I would disturb everyone and switched to the comparatively silent Fuji XT2 with the 18-55mm zoom lens, which is a 24-70mm full-frame equivalent, so a good all-rounder for reportage. During the second half, I could be seen trying to move silently the way Corporal McCune taught me to so as not to disturb my fellow concertgoers.
The second half started with the horn and trombone playing a one thousand-year-old tune for the Easter celebration. Unfortunately, the audience hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that the second half had just started and some were still talking! As soon as the other musicians appear and Hervé started introducing the next piece, they seemed to get the message and promptly shut up! They lead us through time through the Baroque, the Classical, and the Romantic periods. They ended up with Aaron Copland, and music from Grover’s Corner, whoever Grover was. I suspect it wasn’t the same Grover that lives on Sesame Street…
After the concert, we did the official group photo, and eventually said good night and see back at Hervé’s house. It was midnight, much cooler, windy, and felt as if a storm was on the way. Jérôme fell asleep in the back, and Hervé and I just chilled, talking about this very blog and photography, especially the differences between being a good amateur photographer, and a professional photographer and how the two are completely different, in the same way, that I quickly realised when doing my music studies here in France. You have to produce consistently good results, and the pressure is on. They were already doing the concert debrief about everything that went wrong. I tried to reassure them that it wasn’t a competition and that as an audience member, I had a great time. Basically, the same things that I had been taught by Jérôme. If the audience is happy, then the audience is happy.
On the way home, we saw the sky fill up with lightning and thunder. It felt magical, and also the temperature had halved. It was a mere 22°C. It felt wonderful. We got home first and had a beer whilst waiting for the others to arrive. The others arrived and there was still some English beer for them, and some homemade beer too. It received the seal of approval from everyone present. We ended saying what went wrong with the concert and how it was a learning experience. I still thought it was brilliant. So there!!
Today is the 13th of May 2022 and is my wife’s birthday. It is also Friday the 13th, so I don’t know how I should be feeling, happy for my wife but slightly preoccupied by lady luck deciding to have fun at my expense. Strangely, in France, Friday the 13th is considered lucky. What a peculiar country!
But what a strange coincidence though? But little did I know that 30 years ago, almost to the day that we first met how many coincidences there actually were…
She is born on the 13th, and me on the 26th. 26 being the double of 13. As a Catholic, yes, it happens, I have have always felt close to the Virgin Mary. My mother is Anne, the mother of Mary, and my beloved Grandma was called Mary. My wife is called Virginie… But you could argue that a lot of Catholic women were called Mary or Anne. We also live in the Vendée which has the number 85 – 8+5=13.
Today is also the feast of Our Lady of Fatima who appeared to three children in Fatima in Portugal in 1917.
Can you see a pattern developing here?
Anyway, it doesn’t, in any form, detract from the fact that it is my wife’s birthday today. I used to be great at thinking of presents for everyone, be it Christmas or birthdays. I just knew exactly what to look for and where to find it. Now, as in a lot of things, I now know nothing. What do you get for the person who has everything, including Yours Truly? My dream solution, my daughter seems to have stolen my talent and also seems to be very good at spending my money, but this time it is for a good cause.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate in a dignified manner with friends and have a barbecue, with salads, meats, and sausagy things that have been drawn up on the famous shopping list. It is a long shopping list and in a sudden and surprisingly rare instant of genius, I dared to add, don’t forget the charcoal Darling. The charcoal had been forgotten? I had’t saved the day, but I think I scored at least one brownie point.
So now you know what awaits le this weekend. Last weekend was a little more musical. When I first arrived in Vendée just over 20 years ago I played the horn for the local wind band in Montaigu. It was local and it got me out of the house and introduced me to local people who would eventually become friends. After a certain amount of time I got bored and didn’t feel challenged which is not a good thing to happen. You find that resentment can build and boredom never helps. I eventually stopped playing the horn and felt I had had enough, and then in 2009 a friend from the band said that’s had started playing with the windband in Cholet and I played with them from then on, even getting to the point of trying to get my French teaching diploma, but with burnout, and a change of horn teachers, that idea fell by the wayside. I cut music right back to the basics.
Durning Covid, the old conductor from Montaigu died, and within the year his wife died too. At least they’re together now. The band in MOntaigu had wanted to have a concert to remember them by, and last Satudray, after a lot of work by the band committee, they managed it. As an old player, I was invited to join in, and it was a lovely experience.
During the rehearsals, I received news that my boss in Cholet was resigning at the end of the year. Certainly unexpected, but I think I know some of the reasons why. All of a sudden, choices opened up to me. The band in Montaigu found out, and I was told that if I wanted, they would be happy to have an extra horn player. Not an easy decision to make, and I will certainly think about it. It would certainly mean less driving, and with the price of petrol, that is one huge argument. I feel a certain loylaty for the boss at Cholet even more so than for the band itself. not only is he my musical director but has over the years, become a friend. I’ll keep you posted.
Sunday was going to be about rest and relaxation. I felt I couldn’t face Nantes, and would be going to mass there anyway later on. So I went to Clisson instead. We all have those pretty towns just near us. In Hull, it was Beverley, in Noisy le Sec, it was Paris, and in Saint Hilaire it’s Clisson. I’m not denigrating the places that I have lived, but they were also slightly cheaper places to live, but that’s by the by…
I seem to be getting back into using my Canon DSLR and loving it too. It’s the 16-35mm lens that does it. And as you can see in the photographs from that day, Clisson is very photogenic, almost more than Nantes, but let’s not tell everyone, or they’ll all want to go there…
In my last article Dear Reader, I promised you some colour photography and in this article, you’re going to get it. The sun was still warming my back and it felt good to be alive again! I talked about missing out on the Jaune in the Grue Jaune, but not this time. Shorter article maybe but some great colour for you. When I bought the Fujifilm X100f one of the things that had was the Classic Chrome film simulation, which was supposed to emulate Kodachrome which of course died in 2009 and can no longer be processed. The X100f of course has other film simulations, which you can look up on the web, but that Classic Chrome look just got me. A slightly more subdued colour range with a certain warmness and something that you just can’t quite put your finger on, which reminded you of an age gone by in photography.
I mean the whole camera seems to have a certain vintage vibe to it despite all the technology hidden away inside. The little knobs and buttons everywhere just remind you of a film camera. How was I supposed to resist? As you can see in various articles and various photo galleries, I didn’t resist and I’m still OK with that! I even went on to acquire an XT2 with interchangeable lenses, which offer me more variety in the kinds of shots I can take, as well as keeping the same feel to my shots.
Everyone says to shoot in RAW. I can hear them even now saying, “Shoot in RAW you fool!” Well I do, but I also shoot jpegs to have those images already colour edited to fit that Chrome feeling. It’s consistent and I still have my RAW files to fall back on if needed. The Fuji Jpegs are amazing and it helps me to cut down on the amount of editing that I have to do. I’m basically lazy, so if I can avoid doing something and yet get a perfectly satisfactory result, then I’m going with the path of least resistance.
On this outing, I was using the 18mm (24mm equivalent) lens with the XT2. Again, I’ve talked before how I decided to go wider instead of longer, and if any of you are laughing at this point, get your minds out of the gutter! I’m talking photography!!
So without much further ado, let me present you with some colour photography taken on the XT2 in Nantes.