The Lockdown Diaries Part 2

If you’re still here then it means that you’re still alive and not dead from Covid 19, or the light beer virus for those in the know, which is a good thing after all. Soooo…

Lockdown is officially over but it doesn’t really feel like it. People are still covering their faces with masks, which would have been a motive to arrest people during the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations. Strange how things change so quickly.

I have a tendency towards social anxiety that can be treated with beer, but not the light variety. I tend to withdraw into my room and not come out. For the others it must be like living in a Victorian Mansion where you don’t go onto the East Wing despite the ominous noises that come out from there. Or me being a legend like the depressive yeti, where it was once seen near the fridge but then vanished. I think I mentioned that my son’s girlfriend was living with us during lockdown, and then one day there was a knock on my door, and she told me she was going home to her mother’s. That came a bit out of the blue, and I went into anxiety overdrive, like why is she leaving, what had my son done, what had any of us done, I’m sure I always flushed the toilet, didn’t I buy her her favourite jam for breakfast etc. Apparently it had been planned all along. She was just there for the duration…

It’s strange how you can get used to a situation and then all of a sudden everything changes and you don’t know what world you are living in anymore. It’s like entering the Twilight Zone, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah….

Things are open here like shops, Mac Donald’s, schools and the like, but it’s not the same. The omnipresent fear of the dreaded virus is strong. No touching people, no being close to people, changes at work…. I hate it. Sometimes I’d rather be dead. Human kindness seems to have packed up ship and buggered off. Human warmth doesn’t exist. There is just this fear. People being short tempered and distant, and complaining about everything. Not just suspicious minds, but suspicious everything. The authorities say one thing one day, and then it changes. When we need strong leadership we realise that they are as shit scared as the rest of us and don’t know much more than we do. And yet life goes on, but I hate this life.

So what can I do about it? Not a lot. When I get to work I have to go through a checkpoint managed by my workshop bosses. They take my temperature, and put a small amount of gel into my hands. Nobody shakes hands anymore and you just go to your work station. The coffee machine has been shut off, and I really feel isolated in my stores. People used to come in and have a chat, but that’s gone. And I’m the lucky one. I have Alexa with me who plays me BBC Radio 2. The presenters do a great job, and it makes me feel less alone, but it’s not the same.

I know I shouldn’t complain and just keep calm and carry on, take it on the chin, and stiff upper lip and all that, but this situation is without precedent in my lifetime, and is slowly wearing me down. Thank God I still have my photography. It really is my only therapy and gets me out of the house and doing something constructive.

Talking about photography, let’s please, move onto something les anxiety inducing. The following photos are of the pond and prairie that I talked about in my last article. There is a mixture of digital and film photos. I have been exploring the notion of pushing film. This not involve putting a film canister in the table and nudging it forward gently, but not exposing it at box speed.

Let me explain. I buy Ilford HP5 Plus black and white negative film. Normally it is to be exposed at 400 ASA. However, by under exposing and extending the developing time you can get a little more contrast on the negative. Other consequences are that with less light, I can still have smaller apertures and get more in focus. I will get more grain but that’s fine. It adds to the analogue photo I think. You’ll see what I mean when you see the photos. There will be three galleries, one showing digital images, one showing the images from the film exposed at 800 ASA, and the last gallery showing images exposed at 1600 ASA. How does that sound?

This first gallery was taken with the Canon 6D Mark II and the 16-35 mm F4 lens.

This second gallery was taken on the Pentax ME Super with a 50mm F1.7 lens with Ilford HP5 but pushed to 800 ASA

This last gallery was taken on the Canon AE1 Program with a 50mm F1.8 lens on Ilford HP5 but pushed to 1600 ASA

Confinement – The Endgame

Yes, I said Endgame. Well, kind of. My confinement started on the 17th of March, and I go back to work tomorrow morning, the 20th of April. You know when you were at school, and your teacher gave you the “and what did you do during the holidays?” essay. This is the more modern equivalent. Also I’m now 48 and no longer 8.

Did I go to the zoo? No, they’re shut. Did I visit my grandparents? No, they’re dead. Did I buy any sweeties? Just a couple. Where did I go? Not very far believe it or not. I stayed at home. It’s the destination that seems to be in favour at the moment, at least for the large majority of the population. Except for those Keyworkers!

The keyworkers, of course, have our admiration, not just because they have new celebrity status, let’s hope that one day they receive not only the recognition they deserve, but also maybe some financial reward. I think that we secretly admire them because they are allowed out. Maybe societal values changed in some way. Maybe our priorities have changed. Maybe our goals have changed. Maybe.

So. I was going to be stuck at home for a while. With my family. With my family, two cats, and my son’s girlfriend! With my family, two cats, and my son’s girlfriend, and not being allowed to go off to Nantes to escape and have some “me time.” Yes my own personal time to do the things that I can only do on my own. I’m not talking about masturbation, although it has become very fashionable, the sale of sex toys having exploded, much like the genitals of the owners of said toys. No. I’m talking about photography. Wandering around aimlessly (or Flâner in French) just taking in the scene, and recording it in a hopefully artistic manner.

All of a sudden I have the luxury of time. The question is, how am I going to spend that time. After the initial novelty had worn of, and having enjoyed laying in bed, I had to get up and do something, even out of pure boredom. I’m not one of those people who did sport, or made videos playing my musical instrument, I’m me. I do what I can.

I decided to sort out my camera gear. First my digital systems. Sorted out by cameras in two bags, with lenses, batteries, and other accessories. I have a Canon bag, and a Fuji bag. Then stuff for video, including tripods. I saw what I had done, and it was good. I entered smug mode. But there was the question of my film photography gear.

I have been in a film funk for what seems like ages (2017). I just couldn’t get my film development right. It was annoying me more than a mosquito on a hot summer’s night. But I had time, and decided to tackle the problem head on. I still had chemicals, and my development kit, and some films that hadn’t been developed. Good heavens, it worked!!!! I didn’t mess it up!!!! I believe in miracles, Baby. Where you from, you sexy thing? You sexy thing yeah.

Soooo, I sorted out all my film gear, and got that special smug feeling again. I still had some film and dared to dream. I put in some film into one of my most idiot proof cameras and took it out for spin. It is allowed after all. I am allowed out for “exercise” and those of you who know me, know how sporty I am. IE not sporty at all, but I needed to get out for my mental health, and they say that walking is the best kind of sport for fat people like me. I just took my camera with me.

Once back, I got my act together and set up my darkroom. It worked! And a friend on Instagram helped me out and I took his advice and the results were great. I was over the moon, and my film funk was over! Since that first day I have taken more photographs on film and think it will now play an increasing part of my photography. We’ll just have to see Dear Rader.

I started feeling guilty for not raising money for the NHS like Captain Tom, feeling guilty for not giving nightly concerts on the French Horn, feeling guilty for not baking fresh bread every day, and yet I did what I could. I have actually baked a cake, which was very nice, and my daughter seems to have the baking bug. She spent time making cakes, and various biscuits. My wife has taken time not only to tidy, but organise the house. I have taken time, not just for photos, but also for cooking for my family. We have all taken time to get to know our son’s girlfriend. The girlfriend, and son have taken time to be in their bubble and get to know each other in a way that only confinement can offer.

That word, time, seems to becoming ever present. Time. Just take a little time to let that sink in. We haven’t been on holiday, but we have been blessed with time off, to spend time on the more important things. Our lives have had a parenthesis. Time out to decide on how we really want to spend our time. The question isn’t , “will we change?” but how have we changed. We are living in strange times. A before, and an after.

I’ve enjoyed spending some time with you Dear Reader, but it’s time for me to get back into the kitchen and make something lovely for lunch.

Friends and Social

Social Media is a thing. It exists. Some hate it, others love it, some are simply addicted. It is in its essence very much much like the internet. It is a tool. It is the perfect reflection of humanity. Of all that is bad about humanity with trolling, bullying, abuse, etc, but it also a reflection of all that is good, offering information, a source for learning, a tool used to raise awareness, or money for various good causes. Social media allows us to connect in a way that was impossible when I was a child, and even as a young man.

With Facebook, I can keep in touch with family back home, exchanging news and photos. I can keep in touch with people that I knew 30 years ago at school. I have made friends online and have even met some in real life.

The other Saturday was one such occasion. Those who don’t know me might not realise that I am half English, half Irish, living in France since 1994. When I arrived I was immersed in my wife’s French family life and didn’t really get into the Expat thing. As time has gone on, I have changed and really appreciate the support that fellow immigrants from the mother country, or Empire, can give you. This has been centred around the John McByrne Irish Pub in Nantes. However Instagram has introduced me to people in Nantes, and allows me to talk to people about photography and won’t fall asleep in the first five seconds…

Whilst on Instagram I started following a guy from South Africa and his family who life a little further south in the Vendée. We would chat and I would follow how the renovations in their French house were going. I am in admiration of somebody who can do that, as experience and a smidgen of wisdom, has shown me to be totally incompetent in this domain. I have sufficient insight to realise when I should leave something to the experts.

Anyway, we chatted and everything, and then one day they say that they are going up to Nantes to visit one of the museums and I suggested immediately that we meet up, and that I would probably be in town anyway.

As is turned out I was. We exchanged numbers and whilst I was waiting for them I was next to the Sainte Croix church, and thought what a good idea it might be to take a couple of photos. Strangely enough (irony) I had my camera with me. Canon 6D Mark ii, with the 16-35mm lens. I know that with this setup I can usually get a few keepers that allow me to capture Nantes in a way that you don’t see everyday.

They arrived and I offered to show them the pub. You never know when it might come in handy. We ordered our drinks and talked some more. About our different experiences in work, with the children, with schools etc. Then the match began. Wales vs France in the Six Nations.

They talked about wanting to see the Castle in Nantes, and oh what a surprise, it wasn’t too far away from the pub. We walked there, walked up onto the battlements, and walked right the way round. By then the children were hungry, so I offered to introduce them to PitaPit and they loved it.

We parted ways and wished eachother good luck getting home. It was a good day!

Passage du Gois, and the Port du Bec

I seem to have this habit of going into Nantes with my camera and using it as an excuse to have some me time, eat cake, and drink tea. Now I’ve been told about how self-care is important but it’s beginning to show around my waist. I think it might be making me lazy as far as photography is concerned too.

So, what to do? Go somewhere else that doesn’t have tea and cake! I also wanted to keep away from towns and cities. Too much familiarity, and I wanted to see if my Canon 6D Mark II still worked. It does. Yipee. And I wanted to set my self the constraint of using just my 50mm F1.8, the famous nifty fifty!

I love my Fujifilm cameras and haven’t switched back or anything but change is good.

It was a beautifully sunny day and just before midday. I got a sandwich at a bakery and headed off towards the coast. The car knows the first part of the way there as it’s the way to work. I passed the factory and gave her a swift hello. It looks so empty without her workers going about their daily duties. Maybe she needs a weekend as much as we do. Anyway…

I arrived at Beauvoir Sur Mer and passed the holiday home of a friend from the band. I didn’t see the car so continued without stopping. I arrived at the Port du Bec, and made my way down towards the boats wondering how those ramshackle wooden jetties can support the weight of a fisherman… Needless to say, I didn’t try to find out. Erring on the side of caution. I may not have the wisdom of an old man, but I’m not daft either. Maybe the beginnings of wisdom are that we know that we know nothing, but that we are too big to go and play silly buggers!

The blue sky was reflected in the sea. It felt great to be alive. The sun really makes a difference after so much rain. And I wasn’t the only one out. Over the bay I could see Noirmoutier in the distance protecting us from ravages of the Atlantic. All was calm. I like calm. I like calm about as much as I do tea and cake. I walked down to the sea and gently walked back towards the car and off to my next destination, the Passage du Gois.

The Passage du Gois is a passage. The clue is in the name… It is the passage between the mainland and the island of Noirmoutier on the Vendée coast. The particularity is that, like Lindesfarne in Northumberland, it is covered by the sea at high tide. However on the Passage du Gois, that tide can roll in faster than a galloping horse at a rather quick gallop.

One of the local spectator sports is watching motorists trying to beat the tide and there is a real danger that they might not make it. That’s what those beacons are for. They actually have a foot race where the runner finish with wet feet!

When the tide is out it’s a different matter all together. I once took a couchsurfer from the US there. We parked on the sand and watched people fishing for shellfish. She’d never seen anything like it in her life!

It felt great and the sea air always does me good. I might just have to go back…

The Port du Bec

The Passage du Gois

Happy birthday Gilet Jaunes

I’m writing this in a theatre before the tune up begins in about half an hour’s time. I was thinking back to yesterday and going out to Nantes to take a couple of photos.

I was in a foul mood on Friday; a colleague who was a nice bloke and all round good egg has just resigned and Friday was his last day. Plans have been put in place to find an “interim” solution which means more work for me and somebody else doing the forklift work. I’m not sure it will work as well. Anyway! That’s my problem and not yours, but explains why I needed to get out and do some photography.

Some of you might have heard of the Gilet Jaune movement or Yellow Vest movement in English. It was responsible for a few demonstrations that gradually became part of every day life in France. I had forgotten that yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the movement. They hadn’t, and neither had the police.

As I came into town I could see a whole load of police vans parked up in front of the castle. I thought that for a sightseeing trip it was a bit strange. I parked the car in the underground carpark and as I came out onto the street I did what I always do. I check my camera settings and take my first couple of photos.

It was foggy that day and I could see people heading towards me. They were crying. The fog gave some lovely photos. Very atmospheric. Lkke having a smoke machine on a film set. And then I started crying. The emotion of it all? No. Tear gas.

I’d seen worse, and a very nice young lady gave me some water to rinse my eyes. You see, the president has brought the population together but maybe not in the way he hoped.

It must have been around 17h. I had to be at mass for 18h on the other side of the Cours des 50 Hotages. The only problem was the police and demonstrators had decided to play silly buggers and take the mickey out of each other. More gas. I asked one of the policeman dressed in a rather fetching black number did he think it was possible to cross the road and be in time for mass… He thought it would be possible. That bloody chicken never had any problems crossing the road.

I eventually crossed the road and started talking to a couple of Turkish guys. They said what a very well mannered and elegant demonstration it was. Well, this is France after all. But that the riot police looked pretty hardcore, which in all fairness is true! The demonstrators moved forward. As did the police. Then the police put the smoke machine back on.

I dragged myself off to mass and it was lovely until a guy, either drunk, or high, or both came in. Strangely enough I was more enraged by the fact that he hadn’t taken his hat off. I left my seat, genuflected, and gave him my arm as we walked down the aisle. It must have been a really pretty picture of the happy couple. People looked on with relief as they didn’t have to do the dirty work.

I opened the door and told him to sober up first and then it might be possible to talk and not to interrupt the people at prayer. As I came back in there was a man who said thank you, as there a four doors to the church and how he can only cover two doors at a time. He thanked me and my new friend tried to come back in. I marched him out gently again. At the end of mass I saw the gentleman who had thanked me. Apparently our friend had come in three times by different doors. Never dull in ‘Ull, or Nantes either.

Mass finished and I headed towards the pub to say hello to everyone and get a bite to eat before going home. The car was parked nearby too and that’s the only excuse you’re getting!

The photos for the day were taken with the Canon 6D Mark ii and the vintage lens Pentacon 50mm f1.8. The older lenses give you a different feel and effect. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to comment…

Zoo de la Palmyre

Over the Summer I did my best to not be anti-social and spend some time with my family instead of disappearing to go and take photos, and maybe eat cake and have a cup of tea. Hmmm, cake…

So, as a father I have to take everyone into account. We’d done a few visits to zoos in the past but had never been to the Palmyre. Well, why the heck not. Ok it’s about 2 hours away, but we can do that without wanting to kill each other. I let Virginie do the driving. Always best.

Many people have various opinions on zoos, ranging from how can you put animals in prison, to how great they are because of breeding programs etc. For me it’s about letting my family, and especially my children get to see animals up close, in a way that they could only see otherwise by travelling vast distances, or see in photos or on TV.

Even when passing from enclosure to enclosure, we take the time to see each animal, to see what it is doing, to see how it interacts with the other animals around it. We see where the animal would live in the wild, what it might eat, and through that information and observation we can maybe understand more about each animal. We also get to form a kind of relationship with the animal too. Even more so when it is fury and cute. But we see how strong they can be. Just look at the muscles on the chimpanzee. Some of the animals can be fed pop corn, which is conveniently on sale at the entrance to the zoo, and at various outlets within… We build a connection, even if it is by proxy. You can ask your child, “Well, which was your favourite animal?” And more importantly, “Why….?” The child will think about everything it has seen, and how those TV images have become more tangible.

For those of you interested in the purely photographical, the photos were taken on the Canon 6D Mark II, with the 75-300mm F4/5.6 zoom. I had no idea how to take photos of animals in a zoo, so treated the thing as a portrait shoot with various models, and not just fury cute ones…