Ode to January

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!

Hepple for Photos not Gin

Hepple. Even just saying it gives me a certain sensation of pleasure. Heh-pull. It just rolls of the tongue, and the pull sound at the end is tension that is let out and offers some relief. A bit like a fart, but less smelly. Amis de la poésie, bonsoir!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Alnmouth but I like to get out into the country when I visit my parents. You drive into Alnwick, and then through the town past the TA base going up towards Rothbury and the on to Otterburn where the Army likes to play soldiers with live ammo and you are warned not to go onto the land otherwise you might go boom. Going boom is not a nice thing to do and should he avoided at all costs unless you really do want to go out with a bang.

You go past Cragside which as a family we have visited before, in the sun and the rain. It was one Summer and it was raining all bloody week and my mother said we should go out to Cragside and have fun going through the maze on the hills around the very stately home. It was a great idea, except for the fact that it had been raining like a cow taking a piss, and the whole place was waterlogged and we were all wearing crocs (other more suitable footwear from other brands do exist) and that other footwear would have been most welcome. We arrived back at my parents house soaked and a little pissed off. Oh the joys of family holidays during the British summer.

I digress. Je diverge, et parfois je dis bite!

Anyway, you go past Cragside and you will eventually end up at Hepple. I tend to go through the village and park up on the verge after the bridge. You can’t miss it, and if you do miss it the you are on the wrong road.

I have this stupid idea in my head that if I watch enough YouTube and try and learn ever more about photography from the various videos watched, and learn to leave my comfort zone and try new things, then I might discover something new and find out something that I might not even suspect possible. Yes it was one of those kinds of days… I should have known.

I was in the car with my camera and my father for this trip out. For some reason or other, fate had thrown us together and I had missed having sandwiches for lunch at parent’s house and still can’t remember how and why my father was in my car. Well, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to spend some quality time with one of my favourite people. So we had driven off to Hepple. I promise I will get to the end of this story. Maybe not straight away, but maybe by the end of this article.

Parked up. Ready to shoot. Camera out. Lens on camera. And then I just jave to work the scene and try and get compositions and pictures together. Now one video suggested using a telephoto lens for landscape photography. I wasn’t sure about this but tried it anyway just in case. While I was out of the car taking photos my father would be quietly listening to car radio holding one of the lenses as I was doing my thing. Bless him. That man has the patience of a saint. Either that or he enjoyed seeing me doing my thing. It was sharing with him one of the ways I seem to spend a lot of time.

It’s moments like that, that will stick in my memory forever in a way that going to the kitchen to get salt for my wife will be forgotten once I arrive in the kitchen. Not that I don’t want to to get salt for my wife, I just seen to forget very quickly.

So I started of by using my wide-angle lens and the thought, why the hell not, I’ll get the 70-300mm out of the bag and see what I can do with it. A wide angled lens will give you a very wide angle of view and offer up some wonderful distortion. Hence the name wide angled lens. The originality of that name still blows my mind! A telephoto lens however will give you the impression that everything has been drawn in and the background seems to be just being the foreground. It compresses the view… However they still say telephoto lens and not compressor lens. Go figure.

In the photos from this outing I think you’ll be able to see which photos were taken with which pens and of you click on each photos you can see the type of lens used in the description.

It’s one of my happy places and one that I keep going back to. They must think it weird that every summer a French car pulls up and this fat dude gets out with a camera and starts taking photos then gets back into said French car and drives off with souvenirs in his head that will keep him going until he comes back. It was just brilliant being able to just take in the scenery and enjoy being there with my Dad. Definitely a keeper that memory. It was just happiness. Happiness is being out with your Dad taking pictures and just being two men in a car driving across the Northumbrian countryside. These little instances of happiness that just seem to carry you through. Thanks Dad.

A View from the Garden

Sometimes you know that you’re going to get a reasonable couple of shots. The conditions just fall into place. Sometimes you have to break away from your Guinness and your parents hoping that they will understand.

We were out in the garden having a drink before eating that evening. It was a Sunday evening, and the day had been wonderful, and there was me thinking that it couldn’t get any better. It could! I had my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm lens which is a favourite of mine. The previous day’s sea mist had made a comeback. Now fog always makes for some very atmospherical photography as you can see here.

This view is what decided my parents to buy this house all those years ago when they first moved further north from Newcastle. With various winters and storms, some trees have had to come down, but that view through those trees just brings peace to any beholder.

Enjoy and find your peace…

Alnmouth First Day of Photography

As promised, I said I would share photos from my trip to Northumberland post by post. No novels, just photos…

I have got my need for colour out of my system. Maybe. Possibly. Well, never say never, and all that. I wanted to share some timeless black and white photography.

It was my first morning of photography where I sneaked a visit to Scott’s of Alnmouth for elevenses. There was the sea mist that you saw in my article Sea Mist. And when it cleared, it was an amazingly sunny day.

Not necessarily the best of conditions for photography, but as a photographer, I try to adapt to the day’s conditions. Lots of contrast etc. It also avoids getting up the crack of dawn. Thank you Dawn.

Does this mean that I am lazy? Possibly. Do I care? Absolutely not. When on holiday, I commence my day with a cup of tea (or maybe even more than one) and toast. It’s possibly time for a cup of tea right now. As I age graciously, I appreciate these simple pleasures of life. I also still have some Yorkshire tea! You’re jealous now, aren’t you!!

Sea Mist

Right, I’m going to be completely honest with you Dear Reader, and tell you that the next few articles will be about my Summer (sorry 12 days in Summer) whilst in the UK. No novels, just photos. I might tell you a little about the context of the photos, how they happened, and under which circumstances they happened. So basically it’s my holiday snaps and not creative writing. Just thought it fair to warn you in case. You never know.

I mean, I say holiday snaps, but I have tried to keep a certain standard and make the photos look good! I wouldn’t dare do otherwise!

So, let’s get some context. The last time I was in Alnmouth I didn’t have my Canon 6D Mark II with me and I didn’t have my 16-35mm lens. As you might know by now, this is my other favourite set-up and rivals the Fujifilm X100F. Yes, I like to go a little wider when I can!

Now the following conditions were something that I had never seen before here but really knocked me for six. It was suddenly that the beach disappeared. This fog just came from the sea and ate up the entire village, like me, with a piece of cake. Gobbled it up as if it were the last cake on the plate. The whole place became quite eerie and when on the beach, I couldn’t even see the sea. I could only just make out some people sitting on the beach being very English and bloody-minded. Well, we got here. It’s foggy, but we’re still going to have a good time on the beach. It was almost French… Almost…

It was my first morning in the village and I had slipped out saying that I was off to take some photos. I was, of course, but said nothing about going to Scott’s of Alnmouth, which is a rather gorgeous deli, and coffee shop. It used to be the village Grocers, and I love what they’ve done to the place. It looks magnificent, and I also follow the owner on Instagram and was so happy to get there after so much time. I was welcomed as an old friend which always makes me feel special. The coffee was the best coffee that I had ever had in the UK, which is saying something. British people are good at tea. The French are excellent at coffee. The French have traumatised me with what they think of as a cup of tea. Warm tepid water with not enough tea, no milk, and a crappy little biscuit to say sorry. British coffee inspires the same disgust in me. Killian and I, famously, once tried Costa coffee, and said never again! And when I say never, I really mean never. However Scotts of Alnmouth destroyed the myth that the Brits know nothing about coffee, and I was very agreeably surprised. The generous slice of Tiffin that I had with it had nothing to do with my state of happiness. Well, it did, of course, but the coffee was superb!

Happy Birthday Wife!

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…