Back to the Côte Sauvage

Sometimes you just want to spend time alone, not because you hate other people, even if I sometimes find it difficult to love my fellow man.  People, or too many people, or people that are too intense just leave me shattered, and ready for an emotional breakdown.  My mother in law is one of those people.  She is the polar opposite of me.  She loves people, loves the gossip, can’t stand her first husband or any other of her ex’s, and her opinions on everything are the exact opposite of mine.  Could this be her calling in life?  Is she there just to make me question my own beliefs and reinforce them, or is she just a pain in the arse?  Possibly both…

Last weekend the idea was that we go up and see her.  At first, it was going to be my wife and son, but not my daughter, and then it became my wife and I without the children.  I must be a glutton for punishment.  Killian had been using my car as an extension of his room to store his crap in since he left the girlfriend.  I was getting sick of the whole thing and said if he didn’t get my car sorted then I wouldn’t be going either.  The little bugger got all the stuff in my car out, and so I had no choice.  Shit!

I have talked about the way I either need 10 pints worth of Heineken (other beers do exist) or Prozac to be able to deal with my mother-in-law.  And how this technique has evolved into being stone, cold, sober.  Not as fun but allows me to get in the car if things get too intense, escape, leave, and do some photography. 

As it was Sunday, I went off to mass at the local Benedictine monastery.  This is because I genuinely wanted to go to mass and fulfil my domincal obligations to keep the Sabbath holy.  It was also my Dad’s birthday, so I would be able to call and sing him Happy Birthday. 

No, I would not be back for lunch as I would be out doing some photography, and having some Ian time, to partake in my number one solitary pastime; photography of course, what else?  But don’t worry about me for lunch, I will look after myself….  On the Quiberon peninsular, they have what they refer to as the Côte Sauvage, or the Wild Coast.  Despite the high temperatures, we have to pinch ourselves to remind us that it actually autumn, and the end of October.  However, on this Wild Coast you were left in no doubt which season we were in despite the warmth.  Very slightly breezy, so I really did need my cane, and I found the white horses on the waves as they came crashing down on the shore against the rocks so beautiful.  You can really feel the power of the ocean as those waves come in.   It reminds you on how small you are, compared to God’s creation.

Despite the wildness of the coast, the ocean, and the waves, I managed to find my peace…

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…

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…

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!

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.

Les filles et un garçon

As I think I’ve already told you, I am in the middle of trying to learn about this portrait palaver! I had watched the videos, I had perused the books, I had bought the equipment, I just needed some willing victims. Erm, I mean models. I was going to see my perfectly dysfunctional family for the weekend in Brittany so I was going to have to charm them into sitting for me.

We were of course late and as usual it was my fault. Who else could possibly be to blame? Just remember that the previous day I had been in Paris with my 10 year old daughter. Now I’m not trying to invent excuses but I’m certainly claiming mitigating circumstances.

But it was still my fault. all my camera gear was downstairs and ready to be loaded into the car. My son was still with us and helped me. I had my backdrop, my flash, my camera, which is pretty important, my soft box, my trigger, and everything, or so I thought. Little did I know that I had forgotten the stand. I wasn’t going to go home to get it, otherwise I would never live it down and going 200km and back for a stand might seem a little unreasonable. I think reasonable is about 500 metres and I will still incur the wrath of my wife.

We made it in one piece and after a while I wasn’t being yelled at either. What I didn’t say was that I needed to fill the car with petrol and that was going to add on time. I also bought some water too. Hey, if you’re going to be late , then be late for a reason! The other reason was that there was loads of traffic on the roads too as it was the 14th July weekend. Our average speed for the 200km was 56km/h.

We settled in, and I unloaded my kit and started cursing myself for having forgotten that blasted stand, bordel de merde de mes couilles, but it’s a learning curve and I had just learnt to load everything myself so I’m sure of everything. Ah well, I was going to have to without the flash set-up and just use natural light.

The next morning my brother in law posed for me and gave me a chance to explain to everyone how the whole shebang worked. I also got a really good photo of him that won applause on his Facebook wall, which is praise indeed! We were going for the philosopher look….

my brother in law, Vincent.

Can you feel that 80mm F 1.8 bokeh creaminess? Just the right ammount to look like an understated sex symbol… Even I’m starting to get flustered!

The results had really given me a confidence boost and my sister in law was so impressed that she needed no coaxing to sit for me. It was going so well that my niece wanted in as well. My wife and daughter had obviously forgiven my short- comings and I ended up taking photos of all of them.

It was a fun moment and I think one that will be remembered for the right reasons. I couldn’t have hoped for better.