Hello Dear Reader

It has been a quiet three weeks over here in France.  I went to see my wife’s family in Brittany, and strangely enough I could go out, take some pretty photographs, and not get any grief from my mother-in-law.  Yes, miracles can happen. 

England and football had definitely come home just before buggering off to Rome.  Those three poor lads who missed penalties and got so much flack for it.  Disgusting.  I listened to the match on the radio in the car on the way home, but got home before the penalties, which would have been too horrible to listen to.  At least we got further than France, and beat Germany.  Small mercies, people, small mercies!  

My eejit son got back with his ex-girlfriend, but apparently with “different rules,” and “different bases,” and asked me to accept everything wholeheartedly.  Very optimistic, that boy!  There are more red flags in that relationship than in the last Congress of the Chinese Communist Party… And to quote the genius that is Forrest Gump, “and that is all I have to say about that…”  I’ve been forbidden from saying anything else. It happens, I suppose…

They have jabbed once me.  I think there is definitely a conspiracy about the COVID vaccinations.  Why don’t the injections hurt like hell, the way they used to when I was a child???  What is this utter madness?  As of the 21st July, the “passe sanitaire” has been imposed, firstly on theme parks, cinemas, and libraries, where more than 50 people can gather.  As of the 1st August, you cannot go to restaurants, cafés, shopping centres, and basically anywhere where everyday French life happens.  The President sounds like a scratched record, vaccinnez vous, vaccinnez vous!  Strangely enough, people are starting to feel a little iffy about the whole situation.

There are now huge demonstrations against this “passe sanitaire” and people are comparing it to the “Ausweis” that people had to carry about during the Occupation.  Has Macron committed political suicide?  Many are hoping so.  I’m for people being vaccinated but want it to remain a choice.  Aren’t we free to refuse a medical act?  Have Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité, just disappeared from France?  Many think so.

A friend had his 26th birthday, so the weekend before, I took him up to Nantes to buy him his present.  As we are still allowed to frequent cafés etc, we enjoyed ourselves and only had two teas, and one visit to the pub.  Such restraint!  I was amazed.  I could have taken him to at least another two places.  He dared to tell as we were ordering tea number two, that he was no longer hungry!  I quipped, you don’t need to be hungry to eat this…  These youngsters!

I am still allowed to wander the streets of France, and might keep doing it and my goal, this week, is to take some photos of the Voyage à Nantes Art festival!  I might not be able to sit down and have a pint, but I’ll be a brave boy about it! Yipeeeeee!

Art in Nantes

This time last week I was looking forward to getting  out with my camera (I’ll let you guess which one) and getting me some art!  The sun was guaranteed, and temperatures were on the up.  I would get my art and go to the pub for a pint or two with friends.  

On the Gram I had seen quite a few photos taken in the Castle Courtyard showing art inspired by French decolonialisation, and the Atlantic Slave Trade, by the Benin artiste Romuald Hazoumé. The Expo is open to the public until the 14th November 2021 in the Castle.  Romual Hazoumé, born in 1962 in Benin, creates sculptures using plastic jerry cans, giving a subtle critique of political figures and political systems in modern Africa.

Hazoumé recycles matter, junk, and objects that have served their purpose, which he uses in the original state, or deformed to represent his vision of society, events, or planet-wide concerns.  The artist revisits History, conserving a present link to the news.  His research is shown in monumental and hard-hitting works of art, showing his militantism against all forms of slavery, corruption, traffic, that are translated into witness of what is happening right now in the world.

The question of migrationary fluxes and their consequences, questions the western world, and the African continent, and asks further questions about egalitarian exchange, has become central to his more recent works.

I therefore think about slavery and our role in it:  the original African slave trade, followed by the Arab slave tribe, followed by the European slave trade, and eventual abolition, in Europe and our Colonies, and taken up again in Africa with migrations due to war and economics.  We hear all kinds of tales about Africans being sold to Libyans so the migrants “can repay their debt,” and then hope for a better life if they survive the crossing of the Mediterranean.  Some don’t make it and are washed up tragically on our shores.  The image of the three-year-old boy who washed up dead, Alan Kurdi, near Bodrum broke all our hearts and brought the war in Syria to the headlines, and especially the human cost of this war.   I’m not saying that the migrant crisis is the same as the slave trade, but there are parallels. 

I was always aware of the salve trade, having been brought up in Hull, where our local MP, William Wilberforce, was responsible for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire with the Slave trade Act in 1807.  This always gave me a real sense of pride of being from Hull!  France was to wait until 1815, with the decree coming into force in 1826.  We would have to wait until 1848 for emancipation in the French colonies. 

The Act created fines for ship captains who continued with the trade. These fines could be up to £100 per enslaved person found on a ship. Captains would sometimes dump captives overboard when they saw Navy ships coming in order to avoid these fines. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, established the West Africa Squadron in 1808 to patrol the coast of West Africa, and between 1808 and 1860 they seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. The Royal Navy declared that ships transporting slaves would be treated the same as pirates. Action was also taken against African kingdoms which refused to sign treaties to outlaw the trade, such as “the usurping King of Lagos”, who was deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

In the 1860s, David Livingstone’s reports of atrocities within the Arab slave trade in East Africa stirred up the interest of the British public, reviving the flagging abolitionist movement. The Royal Navy throughout the 1870s attempted to suppress “this abominable Eastern trade”, at Zanzibar in particular. In 1890 Britain handed control of the strategically important island of Heligoland in the North Sea to Germany in return for control of Zanzibar, in part to help enforce the ban on slave trading.

How sad they would be to see the world today!  The Artists shown in the Expo, created works to show modern slavery, one of the works being based on the story of Alan Kurdi, which is a dice, where people put their faith in their God, and try and make it to a better life in Europe, seen as this Eldorado where they will be free.  Sometimes I think the only difference between them and my own story is that I was born in a different country.  We may worship God in different ways, but when it comes down to it, we all have the same aspirations, a better life for our children, to be able to feed, clothe, and give them a roof over their heads. 

That was a pretty intense introduction and not as comical as some of my other articles, but this is a serious matter, I’ll get less serious in the next paragraph.  We cannot but feel something deep inside us whilst contemplating these works of art.  Put yourself in the position of a Syrian parent and it just comes home to you… 

I will try and get a little less heavy, and continue the story of my day.  I left the castle  and walked up towards the Cathedral, thinking that the Psalter’s Garden would be a lovely place to have a modest picnic, and reflect on what I had just seen.  I didn’t have anything to eat, but knew where I could change that.  There is a lovely bakery that makes really amazing sandwiches.  Trigger warning.  I am about to tell a Dad joke.  Why do you never go hungry in the desert?  Because of all the sand which is there…  You know what?  I’m not even sorry.  So I went back to the Garden, with food this time, which helps a picnic be a picnic.  I found a bench, parked my backside on it.  So relieved that it didn’t make any noise as I sat down.  This garden is one of the favourite places of a friend of mine who has consented to be a guest writer on my blog.  As I ate I transferred the photos from my camera onto my phone so I could create a story of the day for the Gram, which would go on to be a series of reels (short videos for Instagram). 

I had eaten, thrown my trash into the bin, and headed off to get on a bus.  Yes, me, on a bus.  For the last 20 years, and country living, public transport has become a rare occurrence.  You know how satisfying a pint of beer that somebody bought for you is?  Or how sweet the pint offered by the pub landlord?  I think you do.  It is always sweeter and finer and so satisfying.  Well, somebody  in the city council here in Nantes had the brilliant idea of making public transport free on a weekend. What a wonderful idea!  Now public transport isn’t beer, which I’m sure you, Dear reader, are well aware of, but there was a certain satisfaction of being able to get on a bus and not have to use a ticket, and knowing that a ticket inspector would not inspect the ticket that you didn’t use.  In my life I have learnt to savour these small mercies offered to us.

I was enjoying the ride so much that I actually missed my stop where I had to change busses.  Normally this would send my anxiety into overdrive, but not today.  I just got on the bus going the other way, and went back two stops.  Changed busses, and arrived at the terminus, which was the Hangar a Bananes, where the big massive crane is, that you might have seen in some of my photos.  As part of the Voyage à Nantes in 2011, the whole place has been given a new lease of life, and in the afternoon and early evening, it’s a great spot.  You might want to avoid it at around 2am to 3am, as it can get a little worrisome.  I, however, was there from about 2pm to 3pm, so unless a rather rotund gentleman wearing a Panama hat, and with a camera around his neck, scares you, then you’re fine!

You will however see the Anneaux de Buren, or the Buren Rings standing to attention in a long line that follows the river.  Do not worry either, about, one ring ruling them all, stray Wizards telling you that you will not pass, or small people with very hairy feet trying to find a place to eat breakfasts…  There will be people enjoying a drink and a bit to eat, or going to the Canteen for lunch or dinner, and if you further enough down you might be able to walk on the moon, visit the very depths of the ocean, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to spot an elephant!

I was aiming for the HAB Gallerie, which is the Hangar à Bananes Gallerie.  The clue is in the name.  I wanted to go to see the exhibition with works by Gilles Barbier.  Again, I had seen photos on the Gram, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  It, too, was free, so why not.  I’m not saying I had spent the day consuming art, but possibly, kind of.  I’m not quite sure.

For the first time, the artist was showing his paintings of the “Pages du Dictionnaire” lifted from the Petit Larousse.  Which is not the same as the Petitblond, but can be equally satisfying.  Did you see that little play on words about beer there?  You might have to speak French to get, so to all non Frenchie people, I apologise.  I thought it was funny, and on a slightly higher level than the desert joke.  Apparently, to get the most out of this blog you have to be a photo geek, into photography, and ever so slightly Francophile.  If that is not you, then I hope you can find something that pleases you.  I’m working with what I’ve got people!

So where was I?  Yes, looking at a slightly surrealist exhibition, including huge paintings of the insides of a dictionary, cum encyclopedia, which for those born this century, is what old people used before Google!  Shit I feel old all of a sudden!  So these massive paintings of the 1966 edition, which are very detailed and as interesting to read as to contemplate.  It’s an ongoing project and he’s got to P.  As any one would after drinking all those Rousse beers!  Hey, I found that funny!

Dear Reader, I am obviously a complete idiot, and because of my idiocy, you are about to get a different ending to this article as I didn’t press save, even though I was convinced that I had. I had even scheduled this article to come out at a certain time and end everything. Jesus saves, and so should I!

I think it was something along the lines of talking about the enigma that is the art of Gilles Barbier. It’s slowly coming back to me so you’ll get the main points. In the early 2000’s a company put out an advert saying that they would pay an obscene amount of money to the person that would get their logo tattooed on their forehead. The deed was done, and I was reminded of that when seeing one of Gille’s very realistic sculptures. It was as if the person had gone full hog and got tattoos of so many logos. The sculpture is of an old lady lying naked on a chaise long, covered in various logos. It was one of the most disturbing things I seen all day, and at the same time so fascinating. It really makes you think about the permanence of a tattoo, and makes you wonder what on earth people were thinking! It was like the ultimate corporate sell out. There were more sculptures of heads spewing forth diatribes, others of melted cheeses with philosophical quotes, and to finish, a sculpture made out of femurs and human hip bones. Talk about stripping ideas down to their very core.

If the purpose of Art is to make us question ourselves, or at least mark us in some small way, or even just not to allow us to pass by with indifference, then the Art in Nantes had fulfilled its role admirably. I’m really looking forward to the Voyage à Nantes 2021 and seeing what they have prepared for us! Nantes isn’t a perfect place, but they are good with culture, and free public transport on a weekend! Not sure about free beer though. They might not be ready for that even though quite a few Nantais might…

Right just to finish, as you might have guessed, the camera for the outing was the X100F. Last week I talked about the website FUJI X Weekly, and it’s author Ritchie Roesch, and I decided to try one of the recipes. Kodachrome, just the mere mention of it will make older photographers just get really nostalgic. Well the young Mr Roesch decided to take on a trip to Nostalgieville, and I thought I would give it a go. Most of you know that I am more into black and white photography than colour, but the blues of the sky, and the colours all around me, and the strong sunlight made me want to give it a try. Soooo, I did. I found the recipe to be more akin to Portra 160 and very slightly overexposed, just the way I would do if I were using the film. But I loved the results and will be using it more often during this summer period.

Thank you for humouring me and my quickly rewritten end to this article. See you next week, and we’ll see what I come up with!

 

 

Jardin des Plantes, Nantes

This story actually begins in my village in Vendée, with a foray into the next town and its Saturday market. But you could argue that it began earlier in Nantes when I bought my son’s girlfriend an old film camera, a Canon AE1 with a 50mm f1.4 lens, that I nearly kept for myself, but in a pang of culpability, couldn’t. I would have replaced it with a more classic standard 50mm f1.8 lens. Damn you conscience!

Let us start therefore not at the very beginning but the second beginning, which is like the first beginning, but is in fact the second, thus being named the second beginning, but is still a rather good place to start as the Sound of Music told us whilst explaining the notes to sing by using a woodland creature, the sun, me, a long long way to go, sewing, a note after the previous one, an afternoon snack with bread and jam etc.

I might start at the very beginning after all.  My son’s girlfriend is on a journey, much like myself, discovering photography.  As some of you Dear Readers might have noticed, I’m ever so slightly old-school.  Having a digital camera, and shooting like it was a machine gun hoping for the best is not my idea of what photography should be.  I am more sedate, probably because I am more rotund middle-aged gentleman, aka fat bald git, but find that it suits me.  I prefer to take my time.  One of the advantages of film photography is that it forces you to slow down, and concentrate to take a picture, with apparently, but I’m not quite sure, supposedly even, more value.  When I take a photo, I take a photo on purpose.  I do not do it whimsically on the off chance of realising “the” shot.  I also learnt on film, so maybe this is a habit I picked up early on.   

Anyway….  I thought this might be a way to help Elise slow down, and to be more mindful when photographing something or someone.  Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, but I think it might just be more about taking your time and being conscious of the action you are partaking in.  I refer the reader to the middle-aged rotund gentleman comment earlier.

I made sure she had some film in the camera so it was useable straight away, and explained to how to focus, not just the lens but mentally too.  Explained what all the dials and displays were about and basically let her get on with it.

We are now at the second beginning, which is still an OK kind of place to start.  The day is Saturday, and the previous day we had arranged for them to come over for lunch, and I said that I would go to the market and get some goodies, which means basically, some nice saucission, cheese, nice fruit, some duck sausages to be eaten later on during the week without necessarily needing to duck whilst eating them, but duck sausages, because they were made with duck meat.  Obviously a duck that didn’t….  I came home with my goodies, and was told off for buying too much and how were we going to eat all that….  We gave it a fine go!

Elise then had the idea of doing the typical after French lunch walk, and we were all told that we would be doing it.  However, a friend phoned to invite her to a pyjama party, so there went that idea.  I riposted, saying that it was fine and that we should go out into Nantes to take pictures the next day with the film cameras.  I prepared a couple of cameras for them to use, and some rolls of film.

Even if we didn’t go out I knew I would be at least good for a nice cup of tea.  For Christmas, which was well before the beginning beginning, and even the second beginning, I had brought my daughter a mix to make Madeleines, which French people automatically associate with Proust, in the same way the English automatically associate a cup of tea, with another cup of tea.  The smell as I came down was amazing a filled the house with loveliness and sweetness.  There was also a huge dash of tastiness when I bit into Madeleine number one.  I showed immense self control and put four of my Madeleines into a box with a further half a dozen to share with Killian and Elise.  They too, were very happy with my display of self-control.

The enthusiasm for “going out for a walk” from the previous day had all but disappeared, but we eventually set off for Nantes to visit the Jardin des Plantes, which was where Jules Verne once hang out back in the day.  Tradition, tradition, tradition….

I had my X100F, which I adore, Killian a 1960 Kodak Retinette 1B, and Elise the infamous AE1.  We made a good go at it and ended up cream crackered after a nice long walk.  As the all round good egg that I am I made sure we passed by an open bakery on the way back to the car to get the a treat for the gouter, which usually is the four o’ clock snack for small children, that older children or younger adults still seem to enjoy, even a middle aged rotund gentleman….

Good morning Dear Reader…

I seem to have a thing for old fashioned, black and white, low key portraits and as I evolve as a photographer it seems to be my “new thing” to learn about. The person who says he knows everything and no longer needs to learn is wrong and probably has his head up Where the sun tends not to shine. The beginning of wisdom is to know that we know nothing and that realisation seems to come with age, not for everyone, but for me at least.

I wanted to discover this world which was foreign to me. Now I seem to have a knack of being able to take portraits of places and let the viewer have a feeling of having visited those places and sharing my vision of these places.

But can I really I hear you say, “Even the news and documentary photographers can change the meaning of a photo just using the angle used to record the shot.” But there is still emotion.

Don’t forget that photography really does allow you to see what I see looking through a viewdinder at a given time and place. It is the only art that allows that. Paintings you say in disgust! But I would reply no since due to the very nature of that medium we are already in an interpretation of what the painter saw. We could say the same if a writer, especially depending on the skill of that said writer. We have a portrait, and a representation, but only photography permits you to to physically see what my eyes saw.

The next part against this arguement is about what we do in a darkroom or on software on our computers, I can begin to interpret my scene and maybe show you how I might have felt. This is what I try to do with my art.

I do this through my quasi exclusive use of black and white photography, and in a portrait session I can use my lights to give different feels. I will of course give you examples in the traditional gallery at the end of the article. The sitter or victim depending on your sense of humour, remains true to his physical representation as I don’t transform the person as people do in advertising or in fashion. If you have a so called defect, you’re keeping it. I’m not going to change your shape, or make your skin a smooth as a baby’s bottom, that’s your affair and not mine, but with angles and lighting and asking you to pose in different ways, I can change how people might envisage you and hopefully catch your essence on film or on my screen.

There is forcibly a certain rapport that is built, however temporary, but it will be as real as I can make it to make my representation of you as real as possible. And that Dear Reader, is how I see my role when acting a portrait photographer. With friends, and family this rapport is easier to create as it already exists and i am working on my introvert side to try and work through my shyness whilst still using my ninja introvert skills to get am image that is pleasing to all parties. It has to be a win win situation for both of us, the sitter, and the photographer, which allows the third party, the viewer of the photograph to feel something.

Have I been spouting a whole load of bollocks as usual, or is some this nearing intelligent observations? Who knows? I sometimes have these thoughts in my mind and I should probably get them down on paper more often. You never know when something worth recording might pop out of my brain. Yes. I have just woken up and the memories of my photo shoot yesterday and the previous evening’s time spent making selfies (however artistic) to try out my new light set up and get to learn what I can get out of it are still fresh in my semi conscious mind.

My sitter in this series was Sergio Uribe, how is a very dear friend and one of those people that wonder into our lives for a reason. The session was about showing him my appreciation and thanking him for being my friend. Strangely i can hear the theme tune to Golden girls in my head. I obviously am need of a cup of tea and some toast. Thank you Dear Reader for continuing to read what I say, and help me get up and face my Sunday…

Vocation

This can sound something like a strange word nowadays, but as a Catholic, it was omnipresent during my youth, or at least I thought so. When I was at boarding school, the monks taught us about the monk’s life and how one could become a monk. The local parish priest when I was younger was convinced that I had a vocation to the priesthood. During my teenage years I did wonder, but then hormones struck and knocked me for six.

As i would discover, that drive for sex is a powerful thing. I had been introduced to sex by a babysitter and at 9 years old, it is too young and it robbed me of my innocence. But that is another story and I only shared what happened in 2007, and the first reaction of somebody close to me was, well at least he didn’t bugger you. Therefore, it could have been worse, but I can still see the images in my mind as if they happened yesterday. He wanted me to eat his cum, and I said no, I took back the power, and he knew that dynamic had changed. I wasn’t going to be a victim any longer. Not very pleasant, but as that person said, at least he didn’t bugger me. Small mercies…

That was not supposed to take that route. I wanted to stay positive, and it also shaped me and formed me into the person that I am today. It gave me the strength to say that unlike my abuser, this, will, stop, with, me. Maybe I have suffered it, so that others do not have to.

Anyway. Which is English English for let’s change subjects and take a right turn and not be so heavy.

When I was 6, I discovered my vocation. I saw the Guards parading on Horseguard’s Parade on the TV and I told my father that I would do that one day. I would be a musician and play in front of Her Majesty. I would learn the trumpet. My father said why not go with the horn. There are fewer horn players, and you’ll have a better chance of getting in.

So, I did. I learnt my craft and at 16 applied to join the RAF as a musician. The horror in my mother’s eyes as she realised that I was serious, and worse, ready to go in as an enlisted man and not an officer… Everything was done to dissuade me. I had weight to lose, and by summer, I was ready, and even more serious. That Summer we went to the US and southern Canada, which is a marvellous trip but not good if you want to lose weight. My mother’s first husband who died, had been in the Navy, and had started a business with an old Navy friend. It ended up killing him, and i realise now why my mother was like that.

My mother had decided that my vocation was to do my A levels, and then go to university, and study either business, law, or foreign languages. As it turned out, it was not my vocation either. It was in a pub after a Hull Philharmonic rehearsal, that one of my mates from the orchestra, said well you could do worse than sign up. In all fairness, she didn’t stop me this time, and after going through the application processes, I took the Queen’s shilling on the 4th of October 1991. I was 19. I went through basic training and was back squadded due to fitness or rather lack thereof. I went through the process again and almost made it. The problem was that the emphasis was on being a soldier, which is not what I wanted. I wanted to be a musician. One of the lads in my platoon was having a rough time and decided to slit his wrists. He was my mate. Potentially someone I would have gone to war with, and have gladly given my life to protect. I took it very badly. My idea that this might not be my vocation changed. The band that I was about to join had been out in the Gulf during the first gulf war, as had a couple of people form the orchestra I had known in Hull. Some had come back with the traumas still fresh in their minds, like the guy who had driven his ambulance into a minefield, and as he was being guided out could only think about his daughter. One of the guys in the band was found dead, with a hosepipe leading from the exhaust of his car through the window. It was too much for him. Some of the training staff were alcoholics as the advice of the day, was to het hammered, and forget about it that way. The mental health guidance given to the armed forces nowadays was a distant dream. I though probably that for my own mental health it was probably a good idea to get the f out of there. Subconsciously maybe, I failed a combat fitness test, that sealed my fate and off I went back to civvy-street. At least this time it was me deciding bout my vocation or lack thereof.  I remember my OC asking me what I would do, and I said I would probably go back to studies and see where it could get me. 

I came back hoe and was told by my parents that my father had been promoted and would be changing not jobs but cities also.  I was told to move to Newcastle first, and with no real idea of what my future would be made of, I headed off. Didn’t really have the choice.  But I do miss my childhood home and city.  Hull will always be the place I knew as home.

My mother told me to apply for such and such a course and to my amazement, I was accepted.  There was one of the students that was in a local TA band, and whilst casually having a pint in a pub, the owner said he was in the same band.  I joined the Burma Band of the Light Infantry.  This is what I was really after.  The music, the ceremonial duties, and playing soldiers from time to time.  I still knew how to shoot, and seemed to fit right in.  That Summer we went to Gibraltar with our battalion, and O irony struck again.  The band I was going to join, was on tour there at the same time.  I saw what could have been, but I was happy.

It was that year that I finally realised that the girl in Germany that I had been writing to since the age of 13, and thought I was in love with, wasn’t going to have any future.  It was then that I started to become a fatalist.  I met a French girl that would eventually become my wife and mother of my two children.   Things seem to happen for a reason as if God was giving you a gentle nudge in the right direction.  I still didn’t know what I was destined to do.  However, I knew that this girl was going to be part of it.

I wasn’t destined to complete my studies and became a proper College drop out.  Possibly because I was trying to please others rather than myself.  I’m still an occasional people pleaser but with time I am getting better, and soooo over it!  We had started to create a relationship out of mutual attraction, a good dose of sex, and actually liking each other as people.  Virginie was fed up of the UK and didn’t see her future there, she wanted to go back to France to live, and that she would like me to go with her.  I was scared shitless.  This was serious and would be a massive change.  I spoke reasonable French and even now, my written French is better than my wife’s is, as long as I know which words are masculine and which are feminine. And there was me that thought I was destined to live in Austria of Germany.  Guess not.

I still had no idea on what I was doing and what the future held and just seemed to get on with life and settle down into French life.  Any idea of vocation and career went out of the window.

We got our first flat, and life just seemed to roll by without any set direction.  I had asked Virginie to marry me back in 1993 and she said yes.  Nevertheless, it was still up in the air.  We went to see my parents in the UK for Christmas 1997, and was told by mother to bloody well get on with it, as there is no point in just letting your life slip by.  Be proactive and set a date.   We did.  It was decided that on the 21st of June 1998 we would get married.  In April of that year, Vrginie and I did the Catholic tango and I knew that my destiny was to be a father.  We had each bought a pregnancy test, and when I arrived home I was told I could take mine back.  From that day, I thought right, here we go.  God had intrusted a child to me and my duty was to help him become the adult he was destined to be.  My father is somebody who lost his father when he was 11 years old.  And when he became my father in 1974 when my widowed mother remarried, he adopted me and was there for the duration.  I realise now, that the instant that you become a father, you’re a father for the rest of you life.  He had set the bar really high for me, but I have always tried to live up to his example.  He is a just man, and always ever so fair.  Each time I have disappointed him, I felt so awful each time.  So this was my destiny!

I have two children.  I love both of them dearly and am trying to do everything I can for them to help them develop into the people that God wants them to become.  You can’t un-become a father.  It’s part of your very essence.  I don’t care about a career, as what I do to earn money does not define who I am.  My social rank, does not define who I am as a person.  Despite the Army telling me I was weak, I know that through my battles with what life has thrown at me, I have the mental fortitude, and strength, to keep going.  I have acquired wisdom.  I have acquired knowledge.  I still suffer from depression but it does not define who I am.  You have to keep going, because others are depending on you. 

My son is now the age I was when I left the UK.  He too has a French girlfriend, and we like her immensely.  I wish them both well, and that they too, find their vocation.  I hope part of that is to become parents.  I’m ready to become Grandpa, and let the next generation get on with their lives.

Happy New Year?

Happy New Year Dear Reader, and thank you for continuing to read my twice monthly drivel that spews forth from my  obviously damaged mind. Maybe it’s reassuring for you to have somebody madder than yourself?  Or maybe I just admit it and embrace it!

I think at the beginning of any year we always look back to the previous year and basically just hope for the best. That’s  exactly what I did in 2019 and look where it got us!  So this year I’m going to look back and search for the great positivity from 2020. 

I think many of us would describe 2020 as the shittiest of years for a long time.  We were introduced to Covid and saw a lot of our everyday freedoms curtailed in quite a disconcerting manner.  Our dear President Manu, declared that we were at war with this deadly virus.  And made sure the press scared us into complying with some very draconian policies to “protect” us.  So to those who are still alive I say, well done!  To those of us who are still alive I  say, don’t forget those who didn’t make it.  I’m not going to go into inflated figures of Covid related deaths and all the conspiracy theories that might exist, because when you’re  dead, you’re  dead, Covid or no Covid. 

At the beginning of my year I am usually on holiday from work and will think how far away August seems until we get to go on holiday again.  I, like many of my colleagues with look to the month of May, and its streak of bank holidays, labour day on the 1st of May, VE Day on the 8h of May, even though France at best came in a slight second, Whit Monday, and Ascension Thursday.  We are looking to see if it is a worker’s year, or a year for the bosses.

Let me explain to the non French of you.  In France we have a concept that is a wonderful thing, called “le pont” or the bridge.  If a public holiday falls on a Thursday; we get the Friday off too, and the same for a Tuesday; we get the Monday off. If the holiday is on a Wednesday, you get the Wednesday off.  You can’t  win ’em all!

I’ve  just checked on the calendar, and this year it’s half and half.  The 1st and the 8th are on Saturdays, so tough!

Right, now that you know about the concept, you will realise that we look to the month of May as being a way to get a couple of long , and most importantly, paid, weekends.  The weather is usually good and gives us a foretaste of Summer.  Brilliant right?  It also helps “bridge” the gap between January and August, which can be very long otherwise.

Well in 2020 all bets were off.  We discovered a new concept that year. The concept of lockdown.  On the 17th of March, the country went into lockdown, which was basically house arrest, but you’re allowed out to buy groceries, to get one hour’s exercise a day, but that’s  it. Translated into reality the country pressed the pause button, and everyone was put on furlough, with 85% of net pay paid by the government, and the rest by the company.

House arrest isn’t a very positive term, so let’s  make it more positive.  At the Eve of Saint Patricks Day, my local supermarket stocked up on Guinness and put it on special offer!  Daddy was going to have some special Daddy time, and not have to worry about going into work the next day. My son had set up clandestine meetings with his new girlfriend, and despite our protests decided to go out and visit her.  Sex is a powerful driving force…  we said that it would be silly to pay a fine of 135€ just for that.  The following week she moved in with us and spent the whole of lockdown with us.  That brought a certain animation into our lives and despite the intensity of it all, it could have been a lot worse. 

It also afforded me time to rest. I mean proper rest.  A rest from everyday life.  Not like a holiday rest, but a rest never the less.  It made us realise how speical such a moment can be.  It allowed us time to be physically present with each other in a way that “normal life’ doesn’t afford us.  It allowed us to discover a new person. With faults, but also great qualities. The first being that she is a cheap drunk, which in our family who has had a great fondness for drink drinks for generations is really a blessing.  I’m  not saying that we are all alcoholics, despite our Irish roots, but we do partake and enjoy a drink drink. As opposed to a drink, which is left for total abstainers which are a curse on humaity. 

I discovered that my daughter has a fondness for making cakes, and not only just of making them, but is quite good at it.  This brings joy to my heart, as I too, have a fondness for cakes, especially eating them!

We lost track of time, and with hindsight, I realise what a luxury that is.  We all have our phones on constant alert, we all have things to do, we all like to consider ourselves busy, but there,  we were all on hold. Not just people like me but everyone.  Yes, I’m  talking about you, celebrities.  Those people on TV,   those people on our screens.  We saw them trying to prove how they were still relevant on various podcasts, and showing what they looked like without the glamour and  how like us they were, in their massive houses, with massive kitchens, and how in reality they look as shitty as we do on a morning after having had some drink drinks.   I think they burst the bubble and broke the illusion of magic that surrounds them. That’s  an other great thing about Covid.  It showed us the sameness of humanity.  People in my little council house were under the same restrictions as those in mansions. Money and fame couldn’t protect them.  Talk about a level playing field. 

It gave me time also to get back into film photography and my greatest achievement was to conquer my film funk.  I discovered what I had been doing wring and no longer make that mistake. 

Towards the end of that first month of lockdown, cracks were staring to appear, but we still managed to get along enough so as not to kill eachother before Covid would.

I came out of lockdown early in order to go back to work on the 20th of April. As you know I am a big lad, and my BMI is above a certain level which could have allowed me to remain on lockdown and not go back to work.  But as I said to my boss, I’m  not going to get any thinner by staying at home, and the idea of having somebody in “my” stores, not working the way I did was abhorrent.  At the time I was also the only person working in my stores that knew all the products etc…  I was therefore allowed back.

Restrictions were gradually lifted and we came out of our shelters with our masks on, and started to look forward to Summer.  A trip to the UK was definitely out of the question, and my little getaway to Hull, would be cancelled.  I negotiated well and got all my money back. I was one of the lucky ones.  By early July travel restrictions had been lifted and as I had some time off from work, I took my daughter to Paris for the Day.  I rediscovered the  capital after having beem away for 20 years.  I also got to spend some quality time with my daughter.  We had the chance to meet up as a wider family, so for the Fête Nationale, and met up with other membres of the French family to celebrate.  Thanks to Sean Tucker and his very educative videos, I had launched myself into the world of portrait photography and was fortunate to have some willing victims to be portraited…  We even celebrated the 60th birthday of a great friend too. It felt almost normal again. 

August saw me going back to Paris twice and loving the capital as much as ever.  I’ll be back!

Spetember seemed to be very normal, but mask wearing seemed to be coming back into fashion. This would not be your typical rentrée. Even in  the windband things were going to change as lockdown 2.0 came info force.  Lockdown 2.0 was an awful lot like what I lived through in April.  Everyday freedoms taken away, except I could still go to work, and al5hough regearsals, they had changed and we were spaced out in the rehearsal romsphyically I mean of course. No mushroomswere harmed in any way.  Come Novemeber concerts were cancelled and we discovered curfews, but only in certain counties.  But it was all just putting off the inevitable further lockdown. 

Christmas was relatively normal and we were allowed to go to the non essential shops again on the 15th of December.  The government installed a nationwide curfew, but would not enforce it for Christmas.  It was good to be together again as a family and celebrate a very special birth.  Don’t worry, I’m  not going to give my Christmas sermon about how God the Son, part of the Holy Trinity, allowed himself to experience a full humanity, and human fragility. Born not as King, despite being God.  Humanity, human fragility, and exceptional humility. 

New Year’s Eve technically was under curfew. My wife had decided to get the house looking ship shape for that evening’s meal.  That means that it is a wonderful opportunity to bugger off and not be there to annoy her by just existing and breathing. 

Last Year I had buggered off to Nantes and spent the afternoon and early evening taking photos of the Hangar  à Bananes, so this year decided to do something else. This might just be turning info a tradition…  possibly…

Over the two weeks of holidays, my sleep has gone haywire, and although I sleep enough hours it is a broken sleep. Today it would be different. I had decided to bugger off to the beach in Noirmoutier and would enjoy the sun coming up over the last day of this rather “particular” year. The alarm went off at 6am. You see how serious I was? My camera kit was in the car. I shut the car boot and my cup of tea fell off the car roof and broke. It was as if 2020 wanted to get the last laugh. Bitch! I still got off on time and the road took me past my factory. Thankfully I didn’t stop and kept going. I arrived at the supermarket in Noirmoutier at opening time, and decided to go and have a pee in the supermarket toilets.

I went into the toilets and discovered the light was broken. I wasn’t going to pee in the sink, which has been an option, albeit an emergency option in the past. Luckily I had my phone, and used the torch on that to light my way. I got my sandwich and went back to the car. Ate the sandwich, and headed off to my final destination. The rest as the say is history, and you will see the pictures at the end if this article.

So now you’re pretty much up to date. I have seen may Instagram stories being rather rude about 2020, and how shitty it was and how 2021 can only get better. But taking stock, 2020 was a good year. People got together against a common foe, people realised that life has more important lessons for than Facebook. People realised that there are so many more important things in life, like family, and freinds, and the importance of all these social interactions that have been withheld from us. I know now where my priorities lie, and how much I treasure them. Has it been easy? Not every day. But with vaccines coming out, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe i will even be able to get back and visit the UK despite Brexit. Maybe Brexit might even work. A free trade agreement is all that Britain ever wanted anyway. 2021 will undoubtedly have its own set of challenges but 2020 has shown us that we can get through things that might seem impossible. Let us hope so anyway!