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!

The Quiberon Peninsular

As any visit to my French family worth its salt, there is always drama. Drama and booze. This is why I refuse to drink whilst there. Usually everything is my fault. I am the immigrant after all! But this time it wasn’t me. I was in such shock that I had to go and lie down after lunch. I was respecting the ultimate French custom of the sieste. It was for digestion. And the fact that I was knackered always being alert for not saying the right thing and pissing everyone off.

So as I said, this time it wasn’t me, or my brother in law, who is the other family scapegoat. All of a sudden I heard world war three coming from downstairs. I thought it wise to stay in bed and pretend to sleep. One the fallout had fallen out, I risked going downstairs asking what the feck just happened and making sure everyone knew perfectly well that it wasn’t me this time as I wasn’t even there!!!

My brother in law doesn’t follow my zero booze rule, was just really mellow. A really nice bloke and we reflected laughing about our near 30 years of victim-hood. We are really in the Zeitgeist!

People had dropped off and disappeared to the beach before going to the restaurant that evening to allow my mother in law to just sit at table and be served. There is an important rule in her house that must be respected at all times. Anyone who has a penis is not allowed in her kitchen. I have a penis and therefore the kitchen is out of bounds. I daren’t even make myself a cup of tea, and don’t get me started about cake.

As usual,I had prepared the terrain. They know I don’t like going to sit on a beach. I don’t even go swimming. I’m so fat that there isn’t a swimming costume my size. Also those bastards from Greenpeace come along in their zodiacs and try and push me out to sea. The first time it happens, it’s all fun and games, but the second time I start to get slightly miffed! I therefore do not do beaches. What I do do is to take photographs. As I hadn’t partaken of the daemon drink I was able to drive, I could drive. I could escape. And escape I did. I actually thought about going to the pub in Nantes, but then I would really be up the creek without a paddle. It would almost be worth it, but I’m not a masochist!

I thought I would take my camera and go to Quiberon and go and see the Côte Sauvage, and a beach where I had already taken some nice photos with a film camera. Tell me if you want to see those film photographs then I might have to think about editing this post and add them later.

But here I was with my Fujifilm XT2 digital camera. I also wanted to use colour in these photos. I know…. Not black and white. What is happening to me? What has the world come to?

Sooooo, I was on the coast and in the zone. My mind was just doing instead of thinking. All reflective powers had been given up in order to concentrate of getting “the shot.” I like being like this. It is my coping mechanism. And you need this. Why is being with my mother in law like going camping? Because it’s so fecking intense!

I had done my first beach. I went to the first car park on the Côte Sauvage. I parked up and then started looking for shots. All of a sudden my phone goes off, and I have my wife yelling at me for being a fecking idiot and how in God’s name was I supposed to be at the restaurant on time. I learnt what a dick I was and how I never think of anybody else, and I’d bloody well be there at such and such a time.

I didn’t have the address and nobody had talked to me about time etc. But this of course was my fault. It’s a shame because you may have had more photos to look at. But I did what I could.

Let me assure you that I am still alive and despite being yelled at when I told them what time I would be there according to my GPS, I was still keeping it together man! I followed the exact route that the GPS sent me on, and I actually arrived at the same time as everyone else. I didn’t speed. I am not a sporty driver, I’m a middle aged fat guy who takes his time. O sweet irony. They couldn’t believe me. But the proof was there for all to see!

Let’s get back to the photos. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to leave any constructive criticism. PS I do actually like my wife’s family, and some of the members of said family are actually quite normal and decent people who are not psychotic or hysterical.

Saint Cado

Hi everyone. There’s going to be some of you who will be in shock at the end of this article. I’m presenting some colour photographs to you today!!! I know. You’re already scrolling down to check and see if it’s true, and yes it is. I have to keep all of you on your toes after all!

By rights, i should have been in Hull this weekend but because of Covid it just wasn’t going to be happening. I did however, go to Paris as you saw previously and spent some time in Nantes admiring modern architecture. On the Saturday I was being yelled at by my wife because if we were late leaving the house to see my mother in law it was of course my fault for not having been arsed to collect and prepare all my gear.

I had a few things planned you see. I wanted to use my in laws as willing victims for some portraiture so I needed my studio kit, and I wanted to walk along the beaches and coast so I wanted something light and wide that would allow me to do that too.

For the photos in this series I was using my Canon 6D Mark ii and the 16-35mm lens, which I think is my official favourite lens. I have a 24mm equivalent for my xt2, but it’s not the same. I also have a 77mm thread CPL filter (which I lost whilst shooting and now hate myself) and you’ll see why I wanted it with me.

It was 10h30 and I was to be back for lunch at 12h. That’s generally enough for a walk and to get a couple of shots.

I had decided to do all the Brittany Clichés that I could think of. Small boots, sea, and lobster pots. I’m on the coast, what else did you expect?

And this is why I wanted to use the CPL filter. Get the blues slightly richer, but most importantly to minimise the reflections on the sea so you too can see how clear the water was. And boy was it clear!

One of the first shots was of the trees and the light coming through and the great shadows. Probably a left over from my architecture photography a couple of days earlier. I also wanted the lens because it has image stabilisation, which I needed for inside the church as I couldn’t be bothered to hoy around my tripod.

I’m all for getting the right shot, but with a little effort as possible and taking advantage of what my gear will allow me to get away with.

So what do “they” say about wide angle photography? “They” say you have to have a foreground element that leads the eye to the background element. Because if you don’t it just looks boring. “They” say that you have to do this and do that…. I was just spending a bit of “me” time to get away from “them” so I did what the blooming heck “I” wanted to do.

I walked around the island of St Cado and saw how the view developed in front of me. I popped down to the reservoir where people would go to be blessed. I went into the chapel, and then back over to the mainland , to the car, and to lunch. I seem to have forgotten my phone in the car too. Oh deary dear. My bleeding heart. Best decision I made that day, I think. That and getting out to take some photographs.

Omaha Beach, Normandy

Omaha Beach was one of the five beaches that had to be taken on D Day, 6th July 1944. That task was given to the 1st and 29th Infantry Division of the US Army. To say they took a hammering is an understatement, and General Bradley saw the very grave situation, and one stage nearly abandoned the operation. The grit and determination of his men paid off and they took the beach, but the amount of casualties and dead was tremendous, around 2000 men. A great sacrifice was made that day.

Whilst on that beach, I saw American families turn up, and the emotion was visible on their faces. It is almost a spiritual experience for them, and a form of pilgrimage. The dead are remembered, not only by the few that survived, but by the local population , and the French in general. Just next to the beach, there is the American War Cemetery at Coleville sur Mer. The prisitne graves serve as a reminder to those of us that didn’t experience what they did: the horrors of war!

I remember seeing footage of an old veteran who landed on Omaha, saying that the greatest reward they had, was to see children playing on that beach now, enjoying the peace that was earned by those men who lay down their lives on that same beach all those years ago.

I’ve decided to share photos of both the beach and the cemetery with you. The camera used that day was the Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm Canon lens.

Off to see Mum and Dad in Alnmouth

Alnmouth is one of those picture postcard villages that the UK does so well. I have a good few photos of the place but these are winter photos, and I can always share the others with you later on in posts to come. This was the culmination of our trip. I’d been needing to go home for ages. Brexit has been taking a lot out of me, and add on the worries about my Dads health, you get a mixture of all kinds of crappy!

Anyway, as you’ll see in the photos, Alnmouth is the kind of place that will just help you forget everything and it just works its magic on you. My parents hadn’t seen Killian for over a year and my Mum suggested that we go out for a walk. Needless to say, I took my camera with me. I kept falling behind because I would stop to take a photo. Seems to happen quite often when I’m out.

I just felt that I was in the right place. Everything felt fine in a way that it seldom does in my everyday life. I felt at peace. it’s the kind of place that helps me forget. I was able to se my parents. Killian was there too and not at all anxious. It was like why can’t every day be like this.

For the photo geeks out there, I was using the X100F. Here are the photos….