First Concert in over Twenty Years

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!!

All I have to do is the photo editing…

My friend Hervé

I was at Mass, in Nantes, on a Sunday evening, and being appropriately prayerful, knees bent praying to prepare my mind for the sacrifice of the mass wondering if I was going to be able to stand up again. Despite my gammy knee, it wasn’t a problem. Mass started, and they were off.  During the entrance hymn, my director of music at my Wind band, but most importantly, my friend, Hervé, accompanied by his wife, and daughter, walk in and sit just in front of me.  We gestured hello, but you don’t interrupt the Word of God, and we saved niceties for after Mass.

It was a genuine pleasure to see him there and not just because we share the same faith, but just nice to see a frightfully nice chap, but also an all-around good egg!  We exchanged conversation and I said how wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the pub for a pint.  They’d had a long day, but to his utter disbelief, Veronica, acquiesced and we were given her blessing.  I suggested they park in the same place as I usually did and that we meet up.  We both knew where the pub (John Mc Byrne) was and headed off to claim our reward for obvious good behaviour.

They were already at the pub by the time I parked and so I walked up to join them.  Strangely my nose just seems to lead the way!  I saw him standing outside waiting for me and I showed him the best seats in the house, or for me, nearly a home (it’s where I see my friends).  I introduced him to Simon who knows nearly everything about sport, whiskey, and good places to eat in the vicinity, the Rob, whose jokes are almost as cringe-worthy as my own, and lastly to Gavin who is half and half…  Half Scottish and half French.  His parents are obviously to blame.

We commented on how the establishment wasn’t a bar but was a proper pub, and how nice his pint of Irish IPA was.  I persuaded him to taste a pint of O Hara’s Nitro, which is the nearest thing that I found to Yorkshire bitter over here.  We both seem to have similar tastes in beer, which helps in a friendship.  It’s unbearable when one likes lager and the other friend, beer….  It tuned out that he had some homemade Bitter that he wanted my opinion on.  Ah well, there goes a perfect reason to meet up again!  Fortunately, I was going to be on holiday during that week, so we set the date and time said goodnight to each other and headed home.

I asked if I could bring along my portable photography studio to take his portrait and he very kindly agreed.  At the appointed time, on the appointed day, I turned up with my studio and dog.  Molly wasn’t very sure about hanging out with a big very friendly, almost too friendly for her, beautiful chocolate Labrador, who was coming out of puppyhood and entering doggyhood.

I said she could stay in the car and left the windows slightly open so she would be fine and said that I would come back and check on her now and again.  Smaug, the Labrador, was put on one side of the house, and Molly decided she could stay by my side and still be OK.  We tasted the beer and were unanimous in our praise of this wonderful concoction.  Then the photoshoot.  Hervé already knew that I dabble in photography, as do you Dear Reader, and was most impressed when I set up the studio.  I was quite impressed by it too because it was only that afternoon that I had back to revise how to operate my speedlights and trigger.  The first shots were more to break the ice, not just for Hervé but also for me, and already we were getting some good shots.  He played me a recording of a new project launched by the Brass Quintet with whom he plays and has my old horn teacher as the horn player.  It was amazing.  They were playing in church with a massive organ played by the organist from the Nantes Cathedral.  Wow, that is all…

We then go the instruments out.  First the E flat tuba.  I thought, let’s just break him in gently.  Then I went back out to the car to get my horn and make him look like a proper musician with the most beautiful instrument from the orchestra in his hands.  We would suggest to the horn teacher that Hervé had finally seen the light and wanted to convert.  Then we messed it up by getting out his conductor’s baton.  All in all, we were having a laugh, talking, just as friends will be want to do.

I ate with them and by the time I left that evening the two dogs had even sniffed each other and were even respecting their own private space.  That Smaug is one lovely dog and not at all dragonlike as his name suggests.  He’s a big softy.  A bit like myself Dear Reader…

Glad to be alive

Yesterday I looked death in the face.  Whilst at work, yesterday at around 10 am, crossing from one building to another, I suddenly looked up and saw a big flash of yellow in front of me.  A forklift truck was just 3 feet away from me.  I was between the two forks.  Three feet between me and potential death, and a prison term for the driver. 

The driver has a certain “reputation,” and the guys from the workshop where he can be found the most say it’s just a matter of time until he actually kills someone. 

When it actually happens to you, it makes you think how much you would actually enjoy living a tad more.  Not necessarily an epiphany, but (going for the understatement of the year prize, 2022) definitely a bit of a shock.  Three feet, that were the difference between my wife with whom my first date took place 30 years ago to the day, becoming my widow!!!  My children were three feet from losing their father.

Fortunately, my plus 2 saw the whole thing and came storming out of his office saying that it was unacceptable that I should have to suffer being in such danger, and that the colleague would be suitably bollocked by plus 2 and the 2 plus 1’s that he frequently comes into contact during the day.  My plus 1 and the driver came to my stores, to say sorry, with smiles on their faces.  It was like being told by the teacher to see the child that they had just bullied and apologise.  I said that I would send them the cleaning bill for my underpants that I had just soiled.  There’s no point in going full frontal and yelling at them.  Be the better man and all that…  Also, I’m English in France, I’m fifty, I have a gammy knee, and despite everything, this job pays the rent!

Clocking in this morning, I saw the driver who had nearly taken me out and asked him if he wouldn’t mind not trying to kill me today.  When Plus 1 said good morning to me, I said that I was just glad to be alive and that I was hoping not to be killed today either. I also reminded them that had I been killed, then there would have been prison not only for the driver but for the driver’s boss.  Strangely enough, the driver has stopped driving so fast and seems, for the moment at least, to take his responsibilities on board. 

I will be the better man, I will be the better man, I will be the better man, and with the help of God, remain glad to be alive for a little longer.

COVID

COVID-19: I tried it so that you don’t have to!  As with most things, I always seem to be late getting “on trend” and with Covid, I was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, I had got through it without catching it.  Little did I know that the next day, Covid would come along a smack me about the face!

It was a Tuesday.  A rough day at work.  The sort of day where you feel shitty all day, but are still vertical and not horizontal, and therefore not ill.  Serves you right for only 4 hours of sleep last night…  Wednesday.  A really rough day at work.  You slept a little better but are still tired.  Coughing a bit.  Must be just the sleep thing.  Exhausted and not hugely productive in the afternoon.  I’ll just check my temperature, you never know…  35.4°C.  Could be worse, I suppose, but wow, not felt this bad for a while.  Vive la “going home time.”  Yay; I got home in one piece, and let’s just go to bed.  An early night won’t do me any harm.  It’s freezing in bed and I can’t get warm.  I have the covers on, and my dog is next to me, but I’m absolutely freezing.  This is not good.

Day 1.  Thursday morning.  I get up at the usual time.  Not one for pulling a sickie, I seem to have the do I, or don’t I debate in my head.  Well, I didn’t.  My wife said to do a Covid test last night.  Didn’t feel up to it.  But this morning I plucked up the courage to stick something uncomfortably far up my nose.  Had great difficulty reading the tiny printing, but worked out how to do everything, and how to do the test. Two lines appeared and usually mean pregnancy, but it can’t be that. I’m just fat.  No, I was Covid positive and positive that I had Covid.   Out came my phone, first, to write the mail to my bosses informing them I will not be there today, and second, with blind optimism, phone the local nurse to get something else poked up my nose, but officially this time.  Could I come straight away?  She didn’t have any patients that morning.  Yes, I could.  Told my son where I was going and was asked if he could come too.  We were both in the car with our masks on, drove to the nurse’s office, and got poked right up the nose.  I was now officially positive, and my son was officially negative.  Did he realise how many points he had just lost in the favourite child competition?  No masculine solidarity at all.  He was actually looking quite smug!  The cheek of the boy!

Back home to work out how you do everything for the Social Security, and how you get your sick note.  It would appear that you have to grass up anyone with whom you were in contact for over 15 minutes without wearing a mask.  The only people were my daughter and wife.  And of course the dog.  A miracle happened.  To finish on a high note, I got all the French Covid admin done from my phone and could enjoy being ill at last.  I was still chilling and felt cold, and coughing, and put on Netflix and get back into bed.  It would appear that I have drifted off… Again…

My daughter was tested later that day and became my Covid Buddy.  She also gained points and won the coveted favourite child position.  The day was spent sleeping, and feeling awful.

Day 2.  Friday.  Much the same as Day 1, still with the coughing and feeling cold.  That beautiful doggy dog didn’t move one inch from my side. I tried taking paracetamol to see if it would do any good.  Who was I trying to kid?  It was about as useful as a bicycle for a non-cycling fish! Kept trying to drink lots of fluids.  I had a goodies parcel from the UK and was gradually working my way through glasses of orange and lemon barley water.  I still had good taste.  Which is something just not worth contemplating losing. If it were to make me pee during the night, then I could just sleep the next morning.

Day 3.  My wife became a Covid Buddy too.  She had vainly tried sleeping on the sofa downstairs last night, thinking that this would protect her.  Well, it didn’t.  She was quite worried about phoning her boss, but I reassured her saying that Covid is Covid and so is the week off you get as a consolation prize.  Full pay too!  Less coughing.

Day 4 and 5.  Much the same.  Bed.  Snoozing.  Feeling pretty crappy.  During the night, suffered from horrible muscular pains in my thighs of all places!  Stopped me from sleeping, but I knew I could snooze later.

Day 5.  If I were Covid negative, then I could go back to work.  But despite the mail from my boss asking how I was and possibly hoping that I would be back, it wasn’t going to happen.  Back to bed, and snoozing.

Day 6 and 7.  Much the same, but by the end of Day 7, I was starting to feel nearly human again!

Day 8.  Back to work, but not necessarily bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but definitely vertical again.  During the whole Covid experience, that dog never left my side for over 10 minutes at a time!  She got loads of brownie points.

Rating.  2 stars.  Nice to have a fully paid week off work, but not nice being too ill to get the most out of it.  Wouldn’t recommend it to a friend.

A foggy night in Nantes

It just felt so atmospheric and I couldn’t resist trying to capture the ambience.

The Latter Years

Good afternoon Dear Reader.  All is quiet on the Western Front, basically I’ve turned down Alexa’s volume from 5 to 3.  My boss said the radio was little loud sometimes.  I told him that it was because of my partial deafness.  He then said something that I could quite catch; I didn’t have my glasses on.

Yesterday I celebrated my 50th  birthday, and therefore, am no longer an old young person, but rather a young old person.  To be perfectly honest with you, and why the heck not be honest with you, I didn’t even think I would get this far.  It has been referred to as one of those milestone birthdays.  Like 18, 21, 25, 30, and 40.  But this one really feels advanced. 

Let me just check.  Weight around the mid section.  Check.  Deafness? Check.  Glasses? Check.  Hair?  What hair is left is now grey.  Beard, check. One of my redeeming features.  Knees?  Arthritis in the right one.  Dog?  Molly is fabulous.  Slippers?  Not really, I traded a pair of security boots for my son’s bright yellow Crocs.  Really comfy.  Children?  Check, one adult officially, might be leaving home soon, and one 12 year old daughter going on 30!  Becoming a snappy dresser with a little more elegance than before because I want to dress for myself, my wife, and don’t really care about what anybody else thinks.  Get those yellow Crocs!!  Maybe I’m finally an adult and have actually got the hang of all this adulting? Are there any more squares on the 50 year old bingo that I might have left out?

I check things that move out of my body from the front or the back.  That started happening late in my forties so I don’t know if it’s I’m the right decade.  Looking to see if I’m properly hydrated by the colour of my pee.  Feeling very out of sorts if I haven’t pooped by 7am.  Drinking a litre of water before I leave for work.  I have a smart watch, which tells me how I sleep and how far I have walked every day.  It also gives me my pulse and stress levels. 

Doctors.  Doctors seem to have become so much younger nowadays.  My old GP retired a couple of years ago, and the replacements aren’t even thirty and it’s like going to see somebody who’s just out of school and not older than my son.  At work I have noticed normal people leaving to go into retirement, and I have become one of the less young members of staff.  Youngsters come and join the team, and I don’t even know their names. 

I’m trying to think of the 50 year old stereotypes, and I can’t think of any.  No longer young, but definitely not old yet.  Professionally “they” seem to say well you’re not going any further.  If you leave now, it’ll be hard to find work elsewhere as you are considered “passed it” whatever “it” may be.  Do I just have wait here and wait for retirement?  Will I be able to retire? Politics and all that…  I really have no idea and it’s slightly frightening.

When you’re 20 you’re young and have energy to move mountains. It is the pssage from childhood into the real adult world and can be a rude awakening.  I just moved to France.  Asking for trouble I suppose.  By the time I was 30, I had one child and by the time I was 40 I had my second child. I was starting to get the hang of this parenting business.  During my forties I went through quite a lot of depression and wondering where the hell my life was going and probably was a little too self-centered and I would like to work on that during this next decade of my life.  Maybe my fifties are there to prepare me to be a grandparent.

As this new part of my life begins, I will keep you up to date regularly and you my even get some photographs from tie to time. Until then, I’ll just have to look forward to getting home and having a nice cup of tea and a couple of biscuits…