La Rentrée 2021

My Dear Reader, welcome to yet another article where I will try to find something interesting or witty to tell you.  I have neglected you over August, but as most French people do, I closed shop and was on holiday.  Since Covid and the world going base over apex, my company has decided that we only need three weeks’ holiday in August compared to the more traditional four weeks.  I am about to sing the praises of my wife, so for those of you who hate the luvvy-duvvy side of things, turn away now.  I take it you have all turned away.  

For the first ten days of my holidays, I was camping in my living room. My wife and I literally carried our bed downstairs and set up camp.  That was the less agreeable part of those first ten days.  However, my wife had decided to decorate our bedroom and change all the furniture and replace it with nice new furniture from the infamous Swedish flat-pack place that we all know.  I have a love-hate relationship with flat packs.  Firstly, they’re heavy and hardly fit into the car without all the seats down and your wife in the back of the car telling you how to drive, you bloody moron!  Secondly, they take up an awful amount of space in the garage whilst your wife gets to grips with decorating the room.  Painting the ceiling, putting up wallpaper you agreed to ages ago because it’s easier and you love avoiding conflict.  You don’t sleep well because everything feels strange in the living room and it’s hot too.  Thirdly, they have to be taken upstairs to be put together and there’s always something missing, and you know it’s going to be your fault, you useless fool!  

Anyway, with the help of friends, my son, and a mad screaming bitch, sorry, wife, we now have a haven of peace.  We not only have a haven of peace, but fitted wardrobes that took three days to put together, but look great, and I have a cabinet for all my photography gear and, most importantly, a desk.  

She is a champion, and let me assure you all, she has become human again!  It has been a life-changer.  

During the pre-let’s get this done otherwise I’ll go mad, clear out, we found some films that needed to be developed.  You do not know what might lurk on those reels of film, but you tell yourself that you must have taken them, so it shouldn’t be too bad.  I took in 9 rolls of film in.  I was told by the amiable lady that if any of them hadn’t been exposed that there would be no charge for the development.   Seems fair.

I returned to get the films and the contact sheets.  That still sweet lady told me I would be in for a surprise!  She was right.  I looked through the sheets of paper and saw images of my son, who was still a toddler, and having baths, and being dried by his mother and his godmother.  It took me right back to the end of the last century!  My beard was in colour in those days!

Encouraged by all this photographic success, I went out and took even more photos.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Instagram you will have seen the stories and saw the cameras for the day: the Mamiya C220, and the Pentax ME Super, which were both gifts from a former teacher, and now a friend of mine!  Merci Mr McM!  

I do like taking photos and using cameras.  There’s something I don’t think you knew!!  It was good to be back out.  I am now double jabbed. Thank you to that lovely lady at the chemists who reassured me and said that I wasn’t the only guy in the world that has a phobia of injections.  Not only am I double jabbed, but I also have my Covid Passport, so I can go to the pub again without having part of my brain scraped out by a nurse with a long plastic thingy!  I have rejoined the general population.  

If you’re wondering what the French title of this article is doing there, let me explain.  Quickly though, I’m already at 750 words here.  The Rentrée is the re-entry into normal daily life after the summer holidays where people just weren’t there.  The children go back to school.  Those of use in employment, go back to that employment.  Our extracurricular activities start again.  Last night was my first wind band rehearsal in over a year (thank you, COVID), and it feels as if some relative normality has come back into my life.  

Back to the photos.  I shot the square photos on the Mamiya C220, using Ilford HP5+ film shot at box speed, developed in Ilfosol 3, and I took the other photos on the Pentax ME Super, using Fomapan 100 film developed in the same chemistry.  Fine grain with the Fomapan and not something I’m used to, but a change is good, right? Oh, and I took them at the Hangar à Bananes, and HAB Gallerie in Nantes.

Bourrée ou Macé?

To start with, I’d planned on going to one of the Loire Valley castles yesterday, but due to brain fog I thought it better to just go to bed. So I did. This morning there was no sign of fog, outside or in my brain.

I thought I would go to the Chateau de Plessis Bourée as I do like a drink, and bourée means drunk in French. I do have a family reputation as a drinker to keep up. So off I went. It’s a beautiful place and that day it was a very beautiful place, but also a very shut beautiful place. It seems the Plan B will have to do, which is the Chateau de Plessis Macé, which is slightly more sober. Boring…

I’m actually writing this in the car as I wanted to get that drinking joke out of my mind and onto paper, or screen…

All I have to do now is to drive 19km and I’ll be at party pooper castle! It had bloody well be open or I’ll be very upset and have to go straight to the pub. And with all these new restrictions means I have to get a couple in before chucking out time at 10pm. It sounds like English pubs on a Sunday when I was growing up.

Right off I go. Talk to you later Dear Reader.

I have arrived in one piece and I assume that the Plessis Bourée was nursing a hangover after a particularly good night earning its name once again. Macé looks slightly more open, or at worse, less shut. We shall see! The excitement is killing you isn’t it. Seated there on the edge of your seat wondering if I’ll be successful on this trip. It is with trepidation that I shall open the car door. Maybe more with the handle…. poor trepidation.

I decided against taking the guided tour. I did the “visite libre” and handed over my name, phone number etc. in case of Covid contact. Therefore, as the cheap skate that I am, I only visited the outsides. I still managed to get a couple of nice photos and was able to visit the Chapel.

I’ll put up the boring stuff like links etc., addresses, prices when I finish the article later on. For the moment, you’ll have to do with this!

Now for the boring stuff, or maybe even interesting stuff, depending on whether or not you enjoy history.  A Plessis is a fort built on a hill surrounded by bushes as a defence, and the word Macé comes the Latin word for Mathew, Mattheus. The original fort was built in the 11th century buy Raynaud the first and was a wooden tower, in the 12th century the wood was replaced by stone.  It always pays to invest in construction.  It defended Angers from the Dukes of Brittany.  We nicked it during the Hundred Year’s War, as it was pretty much abandoned.  It also allowed us a little pied-à-terre from which to nick local natural resources.  This is wine country and who doesn’t like a drink eh?  We were mercilessly pushed out of France, and the Plessis was taken over by Louis de Beaumont who built the castle that we see today.  1678, the Castle is bought by the Bautrau de Serrant family, and in 1749 by the Walsh family (which doesn’t sound very French to me, just saying).  In 1868 the Countess Sophie Walsh de Serrant (OK so maybe they were French after all), took up residence in the Castle and launched a huge construction project in the actual Logis.  1907, the Archives de France director, Charles Victor Langlois (Charles Victor the Englishman, Langlois is the medieval French for Englishman, oh the irony) acquired the Castle.  As in most of France during the Second World War, the Germans occupied the Castle, as they did the rest of France.  Yes, there’s something Vichy about the French, as Noel Coward once said.  1967 Philippe Langlois-Berthelot gifted the Castle to the Maine et Loire Department, possibly to avoid paying taxes (again, nothing sure, but follow the money…). 1980 the “Commons” builing was renovated as function rooms.  You have to make money somehow, and who wouldn’t to have a reception in a beautiful castle?  1987, the artistic director of the Anjou Festival, Jean-Claude Brialy, a French and very butch luvvie, presented the infamous Barber of Seville by Beaumarchais.  Skip forward to 2020, the photographer Ian J Myers visited the Castle because the other one he wanted to visit was shut, and he was buggered if he was going to leave the area without taking a couple of photos for posterity and his blog!

You, Dear Reader are now up to date.  All that is left for me to do is to edit the photos and present them to you. I had originally planned to visit a few of the Loire Castles but then Lockdown happened, again! I’ll change plans and see what I come up with for future articles!

Off to see the King

At work lately we’ve been having four day weeks and it’s wonderful! There are slightly fewer orders coming in but that’s OK. There’s enough to keep everything rolling by. And who doesn’t love having a day off? Those who said not me, are either liars or simply mistaken.

So that Friday I decided that I wanted to stay away from the house and get my booty off somewhere to take photos. But where? While I was edging closer to be a full time professional musician I did a spot of teaching in a place called Vihiers. It’s miles away, but still a nice drive out. I stopped edging towards music, and photography has taken over. One of my pupils talked about the Abbaye de Fontevraud. I looked it up on the Internet and started learning about it.

I’m half English and part of that is being real with the French. They need this. During and before the Hundred Years War, this area of France was English, and our King was their King. Those of you who aren’t English might have heard of Robin Hood, who looked just like Kevin Kostner and had a mate who looked strangely like Morgan Freeman. There was the Evil Prince John who became King when Richard the Lionheart (who looked really badass and you could mistake him for Sean Connery) went off on a Crusade to show just how badass he really was. Their mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eleanor, her Husband Henry Plantagenet, their son Richard (the famous badass), and Isabelle d’Angouleme who was married to John. Her bad… We all make mistakes.

So this is kind of crazy for me who enjoys history and discovers more of the Anjou region which is just down the road from the Vendée. On the way I recognised a place where I used to buy foie gras when we first moved here. I called in on the off chance of being able to make a purchase and take something good home for my family. It’s changed a bit since 15 years ago, and offers different products. I left some money there and felt happy about buying something directly from the producer that was made on site etc. And it tasted really good too.

Sooooo… I turn up in the Village of Fontevraud l’Abbaye and I even managed to find the said Abbaye. 11€ for the entrance ticket, which seemed reasonable.

A bit of history here for those who can’t be bothered to click and have a read. Basically, the abbey was founded 1101 by the itinerant preacher Robert of Arbrissel. It developed and flourished during the Plantagenet era, went downhill after the Plantagenets were no more, however by the Hundred Years War things were going downhill, and during an inspection in 1460, the abbey was found to be barely inhabited. Fast forward to 1457 reforms were introduced by the then abbesse Marie of Bretagne. Louis the XI gave the place his blessing and the place started to really try to get back on its feet again, but without a huge amount of success. In 1491 there came Renée who was from the French Royal family (the Bourbons, french royals and not the rather tasty biscuits or whiskey). I’m not going to translate the whole of the French wikipedia article but you get the gist right? Things got better, and by the time the French decided that Royalty wasn’t for them during the French Revolution, things were OK!

However as the revolutionaries weren’t into Royalty and because of the so called “Enlightenment” philosophies, they weren’t into religion in a big way either. That continues to this very day. I promise not to get political! They basically get rid of the nuns, and by 1804, Napolean, yes him again, decided to make the place a prison, and it remained so until 1963.

When I went there I wanted to feel the Royal side with Richard the Lionheart and feel the medieval legends in the walls. But I’ll risk being contraversial, and say that I felt more the “prison vibe” and it might be because of the less than sunny autumnal weather, but I could feel the buildings being a place of great suffering. Quite ominous in fact.

Since 1975 it was converted from a prison into a Cultural Centre for the Region. You can see a few “colour” photos of the latest art installation which was very impressive.

Would I go back? Possibly, but not in Autumn.

Back in Paris

I’m happy to tell you that I am feeling better than I was when I wrote my last article. Mentally I seem to be on waves and at least now I know things will get better. At the moment I seem to be OK. Right now we’ve got that said we can go on. In another article I had talked about photos that I had wanted to share with you all.

As you can read in previous articles, my first visit with Kate to Paris was based on where “she” wanted to go, and this visit was to be no different. Kate had decided on the Louvre and Eiffel Tower for our first visit. This time it was going to be Les Invalides and the Champs Elysées.

During this last visit to Paris I was with Kate and we started off checking out Les Invalides to make sure that Napoleon was still dead and wasn’t up to ruining Europe. He is still dead, but maybe over compensating with his huge tomb. Maybe he was the Petit Caporal after all. Maybe…. Anyway, our modern day politicians are managing to mess everything perfectly well by themselves. Did you see how I got political and edgy without mentioning any names there? As I told my father the other day, it’s not a good day if you can’t make a dig at the French or make a small child cry.

So back to Paris, hoping to avoid the train adventure from the visit with Jean Guillaume. It was a lovely day and we were ready to have some serious fun. Foot wear and walking stick in hand, we were ready. We arrived and of course headed off to Marks and Spencers to get an early lunch. Oh shock and horror, they hadn’t been delivered with sandwiches. I was devastated. I wanted a bite of my childhood again. But it wasn’t to be. We got a couple of salads and some fruit and headed off to the little park where I had eaten with Jean Guillaume.

Then we had to revisit the Metro. I still love the metro for it’s different stations and all the tiling. It just has a little magic of its own. I know that with the crowds of Parisians, police, delinquents, junkies begging for money etc, we might have a tendency to forget it. I think as I am no longer a regular user that I am no longer blinded to all that. And don’t forget, it was still August where all the Parisians bugger off on holiday and leave their town to us tourists.

Anyway back to the visit. At Les Invalides we were greeted by the Gendarmerie Nationale who wanted to check our bags and make sure that weren’t going to do anything naughty. We were fine and headed off to buy our tickets. The first display showed horses with various bits of armour and mannequins showing how dashing French Cavalry Officers used to be. Luckily for the British, our Cavalry was better and we actually got quite good at thrashing Frenchie and giving him a damned good whooping…

We saw huge amounts of swords, and I still don’t know why we don’t pronounce the “W.” But it does explain why we nicked the idea of the Busby from the French for our Guards in the Household division. Those swords could do a lot of damage.

We worked our way around and looked at various weapons that the French had and imagining the damage they could inflict on somebody. We saw the works of Vauban and his genius in building defences. We saw exhibits from the First World War in which my grandfather fought, and exhibits from World War Two, that despite what they might like to believe wasn’t won by the French even though they might have come a close second if we’re being gracious with them. We got on to Indochine where the French started giving up their colonial possession’s, including North Africa, but we don’t talk about that, and then on to the Cold War. Which technically we won, but should have been much more gracious in victory and maybe we wouldn’t be having the problems we actually have in Russia today.

Anyway… We managaed to find the exit and after passing through the gift shop buying here a couple of BD’s in the series that she is reading, about French kids during the Occupation. It was time to check on Old Boney!

The building that houses him is beautiful. Very French. Stylish, and the tombs are amazing. Some dedicated to Generals who gave their names to so many streets in France. Foch, Vauban, Turenne, de Lattre de Tassigny, Philippe Leclerc de Hautlecocque. Even the Capitaine Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle who wrote the French National Anthem. Ok, so they’re not all bad however French they may be…

It really was very inspiring, and I almost feel guilty that the British beat the French at Waterloo. Almost…. It is true that we the Prussians with us, and that Napoleon’s artillery was rendered useless by the mud. OMG, I’m turning into one of them. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelp Meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Back onto the metro and up to the Place de l’Etoile. Kate wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe that we usually see on TV when the Gilets Jaunes weren’t very happy with the little Manu, and the police wanted something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Mind you, it really is quite impressive. Kate wanted to visit the Champs Elysées, so visit it we would. I had decided to walk from one end to the other. It is supposed to be the most beautiful avenue in the world, and at Christmas time, when it is all lit up it really is very special. That day it was still pretty good though.

Kate was getting peckish and it was time for this photographer to have a coffee. The place we ended up was bright yellow and you might need some sunglasses if you go there. The Café Joyeux is an amazing place. Their staff are mentally handicaped, and managed by team leaders who guide them and help them have a meaningful job and career. The service was impeccable and everything felt so natural which is a fitting tribute to their professionalism. It really is a very “Joyeux” experience, and if you’re in Paris then please drop in and see them. Oh, and the coffee is amazing too. It’s a proper café and not just a social project. We have to power to change things.

We continued our trip down the Avenue and saw the original Guerlain Shop that was opened in 1914. Now the Parisians are just amazing at making things that are beautiful, and here it was particularly true, and everything smelt amazing.

For her upcoming birthday I had decided to buy my daughter some clothes on the Champs Elysées in H et M. Ok it’s not the most luxurious of brands but there was that little extra special feeling because of the location, and the trip was about Kate and not necessarily me. We came away with two dresses, some shoes, some hair stuff, and somewhat poorer, but it was her birthday after all…. And during a Daddy daughter day, stuff like that happens.

It was just lovely having time together and walking together. She was wearing Doc Martens boots with a bit of of a heel, but she managed to keep going. We would sit down and just breathe. I love that corner of Paris and always will do. We arrived at the Place de La Concord where the French decided to end the Royalty a little more brutally but guillotining them and it is amazing how beautiful a place it is now compared to the place of suffering and bloodshed all those many years ago.

We managed to get to WH Smiths before it shut to get a goodie bag with all kinds of sweets, pickle, and tea to take home. Kate fell asleep on the train home. Which isn’t surprising for a girl who had walked more than 22.000 paces in one day. Bless her cotton socks.

Canon and the Helios 44-2 58mm

It was a Sunday after a night celebrating a friend’s birthday with a “couple” of drinks. Which meant I was a tad on the tired side. Not hungover of course. Let’s just say that I needed to move my booty and air my mind.

As those of you who know me might have guessed already that meant making sure I was fit to drive. I was fit to drive. Grabbed my Canon 6D Mark ii and stuck on the Helios 44-2 58 mm F 2,0 lens.

At 58 mm we are leaving the standard focal lengths and heading off into portrait lens territory. How bold of me! Especially as I would be using it on the streets of Nantes. It’s a M42 screw mount lens and therefore needs an adapter in order to work on my modern DSLR. Manual focussing and without focus peaking and with my bad eyes is not easy unless yon use the flippy outy screen and zoom in,which meant that even I could get some in-focus images.

The Helios is a Russian lens from the Soviet era and the build quality could be described as slightly solid. When I first bought it I had placed it on my dining room table. It fell off the table onto the tiled floor and damaged a tile… But you dear reader are sensible and don’t do that kind of sh*t so you’ll be fine.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the bokeh that this lens gives out. If you like creamy bokeh goodness with a bit of a swirl then you won’t be disappointed. Try and spot it as you look through the photos. The bokeh whores amongst you will not be left wanting.

Île de Nantes with the XT2

It was the first full day of leave from work and I wasn’t able to get to the UK so what is a guy to do? I was devastated but it became clearer and clear that my trip to Hull wasn’t going to happen. You can take the man out of Hull, but not the Hull out of the man. Retail therapy would cost a fortune. An interesting idea with many merits, but my credit card might not be OK with that… So I decided to go out to Nantes with my camera.

Some of you might remember me talking about Sean Tucker in my article about the portraits with one speed lite. His latest video was talking about minimalism in street photography and how he would go around the Barbican for some modern architecture photography shots. Believe it or not but I don’t actually live in London, no, I live near Nantes and so did the next best thing. The Île de Nantes is an area that is under development and has some very interesting architecture with lots of texture.

Nantes is one of those places that is old and has gone through so many mutations over the centuries but has always found a way of reinventing itself. Some of you might have realised that I frequent a certain establishment in the quartier historique of Bouffay, which is where the staff of the Castle used to live. There are long boulevards with Hausmannien architecture. Other areas with traces of various workshops from the beginning of the 20th century, the Passage Pommeraye, that 19th century collection of shops that have become such a feature of Nantes. The Île de Nantes had the naval dockyards that after the decline of shipbuilding in Nantes were transformed. And so it is the turn of the rest of the Île de Nantes.

I wanted to try and find shots which were based on form and light almost as if I were trying to give my eyes and vision a workout. I was using the FUJIFILM XT2 with the 16mm f2.8 lens. It was a lovely day too!

I think it might have to be something that I should try more often….