My friend Hervé

I was at Mass, in Nantes, on a Sunday evening, and being appropriately prayerful, knees bent praying to prepare my mind for the sacrifice of the mass wondering if I was going to be able to stand up again. Despite my gammy knee, it wasn’t a problem. Mass started, and they were off.  During the entrance hymn, my director of music at my Wind band, but most importantly, my friend, Hervé, accompanied by his wife, and daughter, walk in and sit just in front of me.  We gestured hello, but you don’t interrupt the Word of God, and we saved niceties for after Mass.

It was a genuine pleasure to see him there and not just because we share the same faith, but just nice to see a frightfully nice chap, but also an all-around good egg!  We exchanged conversation and I said how wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the pub for a pint.  They’d had a long day, but to his utter disbelief, Veronica, acquiesced and we were given her blessing.  I suggested they park in the same place as I usually did and that we meet up.  We both knew where the pub (John Mc Byrne) was and headed off to claim our reward for obvious good behaviour.

They were already at the pub by the time I parked and so I walked up to join them.  Strangely my nose just seems to lead the way!  I saw him standing outside waiting for me and I showed him the best seats in the house, or for me, nearly a home (it’s where I see my friends).  I introduced him to Simon who knows nearly everything about sport, whiskey, and good places to eat in the vicinity, the Rob, whose jokes are almost as cringe-worthy as my own, and lastly to Gavin who is half and half…  Half Scottish and half French.  His parents are obviously to blame.

We commented on how the establishment wasn’t a bar but was a proper pub, and how nice his pint of Irish IPA was.  I persuaded him to taste a pint of O Hara’s Nitro, which is the nearest thing that I found to Yorkshire bitter over here.  We both seem to have similar tastes in beer, which helps in a friendship.  It’s unbearable when one likes lager and the other friend, beer….  It tuned out that he had some homemade Bitter that he wanted my opinion on.  Ah well, there goes a perfect reason to meet up again!  Fortunately, I was going to be on holiday during that week, so we set the date and time said goodnight to each other and headed home.

I asked if I could bring along my portable photography studio to take his portrait and he very kindly agreed.  At the appointed time, on the appointed day, I turned up with my studio and dog.  Molly wasn’t very sure about hanging out with a big very friendly, almost too friendly for her, beautiful chocolate Labrador, who was coming out of puppyhood and entering doggyhood.

I said she could stay in the car and left the windows slightly open so she would be fine and said that I would come back and check on her now and again.  Smaug, the Labrador, was put on one side of the house, and Molly decided she could stay by my side and still be OK.  We tasted the beer and were unanimous in our praise of this wonderful concoction.  Then the photoshoot.  Hervé already knew that I dabble in photography, as do you Dear Reader, and was most impressed when I set up the studio.  I was quite impressed by it too because it was only that afternoon that I had back to revise how to operate my speedlights and trigger.  The first shots were more to break the ice, not just for Hervé but also for me, and already we were getting some good shots.  He played me a recording of a new project launched by the Brass Quintet with whom he plays and has my old horn teacher as the horn player.  It was amazing.  They were playing in church with a massive organ played by the organist from the Nantes Cathedral.  Wow, that is all…

We then go the instruments out.  First the E flat tuba.  I thought, let’s just break him in gently.  Then I went back out to the car to get my horn and make him look like a proper musician with the most beautiful instrument from the orchestra in his hands.  We would suggest to the horn teacher that Hervé had finally seen the light and wanted to convert.  Then we messed it up by getting out his conductor’s baton.  All in all, we were having a laugh, talking, just as friends will be want to do.

I ate with them and by the time I left that evening the two dogs had even sniffed each other and were even respecting their own private space.  That Smaug is one lovely dog and not at all dragonlike as his name suggests.  He’s a big softy.  A bit like myself Dear Reader…

Palm Sunday

As a Catholic I celebrate the beginning of Holy Week, culminating on Easter Sunday when we will declare once again, that “He is risen!” We will celebrate the fight of God sending His only Son here on earth as the Saviour of all mankind to vanquish darkness. We will celebrate life over death, the sacrifice of our Lord, and the hope that this gives all of us.

In the Gospel in mass this morning, or last night for me at the vigil mass, we reminded ourselves of the palms laid on the roads by the crowds welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem, where less than a week later, He would be crucified and sacrificed to save us from our sins. From treating Him like a king, even though he humbly rode in on a donkey, to mocking Him as King of the Jews during His execution. So during the mass, we hear the Gospel of Luke, which told us of His Passion from the entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, His betrayal by Judas, His trials, His crucifixion and death.

This belief in His sacrifice, the power of life over death, is really the crux of our beliefs. *

We prepare ourselves mentally and, of course, spiritually, for this during the forty days of Lent, which reminds us of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and praying just before taking up His public ministry. It also harkens back to the forty years of Exodus that Jews had whilst fleeing Egypt, (where Jesus grew up, following His birth in Bethlehem, and where Herod ordered all the male children under the age of two to be killed during the massacre of the Innocents). Everything just seems to link back. And not just Egypt but the number forty too. There are so many more that I don’t have the space to write them all here.

So, traditionally we are bound by rules of fast and abstinence. Traditionally, we would give up something to try to add to His sacrifice and our “little sacrifices” as Ste Theresa of Lisieux said, would bring us closer to God. As children, we were told to give up sweets, and I remember being told not to just give something up to do something else by our local bishop. I took this on board when at high school and once went to daily mass for the whole of Lent. This year I was influenced by some of the older men in my village who were known for giving up the demon drink for Lent, and us weaklings would look at them with great admiration. This year, I tried the same thing, and, thank God, I have kept it up. There were a few times at the pub when ordering a coke, I received blank stares, like what the f is wrong with you man???? But as Lent drew on, people got used to it and I could just have to say Carême so that people would get it. All this is on top of the no meat Wednesdays and Fridays, with a little extra fasting just to remind you of the seriousness of Lent. That was slightly harder. We also try to get at least once to confession before the end of Lent to prepare our souls for the feast of Easter.

The extra thing I tried to do, was to say a daily Rosary, which our Protestant friends told me is just idolatry, and worshipping Mary, instead of going directly to Jesus. Unfortunately for them, they don’t seem to have grasped what is so important about the Rosary of Our Lady and her role in Jesus’ life.

The Rosary is above all a contemplative prayer, asking Our Lady to intercede for us to Jesus, whilst meditating on fifteen mysteries or events in the life of Jesus. These mysteries fall into three groups, the Joyous mysteries, the Sorrowful mysteries, and the Glorious mysteries. You have ten Hail Marys per decade (or event in the life of Jesus) which gives you something akin to a metre or acts as a pacemaker. I would urge you to click on the Rosary link to find out more and it’s a website that I use regularly to help me get through it.

When I started doing it every day for Lent, it was slightly arduous to begin with, like taking up a new sport. Easy to be distracted during the meditation, and some days I just couldn’t do it. I would actually fall asleep on occasions! I would even go as far as saying that it was a grind, but as the days went on, I started seeing the benefits of this spiritual exercise. It really is an exercise but becomes easier. I certainly feel better thanks to the daily recital. Maybe I should do the same for this body of mine.

I wish you all a very Happy Holy Week and Easter. And as Padre Pio once told us, pray, hope, and don’t worry!

How was your weekend?

Well, on Friday night we had the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  As a Catholic, and, as somebody who has actually been to Fatima, and knows what a big thing this is, it was a very moving and special moment.  The majority of us wish peace for Ukraine and wish for an end to Putin’s invasion, and anyone who says it’s just a special military operation is in serious error!  Since the beginning of the invasion, this is a start of hope in this grizzly war.  Let’s keep praying for them!  What else was Pope Francis supposed to do?

I’m sorry if Catholicism isn’t your thing, but it is mine, and I wanted to get that out there.  You can hate me later.

On Saturday, I felt slightly out of it, especially after the emotion of the previous evening.  I felt tired and just wanted to sleep and rest.  During the week, I had started reading up on using an ultra-wide lens as a portrait lens.  As it happens, I have one for my Canon 6D Mark II.  The infamous 16-35mm.  If you look at previous articles and on my Instagram feed, you can see the results that I have managed to get from this setup.  I love the distortion that this lens gives me.  It allows me to create images that although taken in real life seem to have an otherworldly feel to them.  “They” say it’s all about creating images that “stand out” and I’m all for that! 

So instead of just reading up on it and wishing, the best thing to do is to pull the proverbial finger out, get the kit out of the camera cupboard and use it!  I’ve been using my Fuji camera systems lately and I thought it would be good to have a change.  I’ve been so happy with the Canon and the 16-35mm lens in the past, and have had such great results with it, so I was feeling really geared up and positive. 

Then I got out and for some reason, I just couldn’t get into the zone.  I was fortunate enough to get a couple of half-decent photos, but I certainly wasn’t feeling it.  I kept at it with my legendary stubbornness, but I knew it wasn’t a good day.  I know you can’t have a good day every day, but I usually do better than that.  Let me assure you, however, that this is only temporary, and that next Friday afternoon I will have another go. Not every photo was useless as you can see in the gallery, but you do feel a certain frustration.  You’re all geared up to create and then you get performance issues. Still no idea why, but it could always be worse. I could have given the booze up for Lent and therefore not be able to have a pint of Guinness to console me. Oh, wait…

There’s a difference between knowing the theory, having practised, and being able to reproduce great results every time.  That is probably the reason that I am still an amateur and not a pro.

I will not let this discourage me and next time is next time.  If this ever happens to you then please don’t fret about it.  Sometimes it’s just not your day.  It doesn’t mean that you are a bad photographer, it just means that it’s not a good day on a given day.  Be stubborn.  Keep going.  Don’t give up.  Show the buggers what you can do!

Here are the photos.  Not all of them were horrible, and one or two shine out, which is actually quite good. Tell me what you think.  How should I change my approach for the next time?

Vocation

This can sound something like a strange word nowadays, but as a Catholic, it was omnipresent during my youth, or at least I thought so. When I was at boarding school, the monks taught us about the monk’s life and how one could become a monk. The local parish priest when I was younger was convinced that I had a vocation to the priesthood. During my teenage years I did wonder, but then hormones struck and knocked me for six.

As i would discover, that drive for sex is a powerful thing. I had been introduced to sex by a babysitter and at 9 years old, it is too young and it robbed me of my innocence. But that is another story and I only shared what happened in 2007, and the first reaction of somebody close to me was, well at least he didn’t bugger you. Therefore, it could have been worse, but I can still see the images in my mind as if they happened yesterday. He wanted me to eat his cum, and I said no, I took back the power, and he knew that dynamic had changed. I wasn’t going to be a victim any longer. Not very pleasant, but as that person said, at least he didn’t bugger me. Small mercies…

That was not supposed to take that route. I wanted to stay positive, and it also shaped me and formed me into the person that I am today. It gave me the strength to say that unlike my abuser, this, will, stop, with, me. Maybe I have suffered it, so that others do not have to.

Anyway. Which is English English for let’s change subjects and take a right turn and not be so heavy.

When I was 6, I discovered my vocation. I saw the Guards parading on Horseguard’s Parade on the TV and I told my father that I would do that one day. I would be a musician and play in front of Her Majesty. I would learn the trumpet. My father said why not go with the horn. There are fewer horn players, and you’ll have a better chance of getting in.

So, I did. I learnt my craft and at 16 applied to join the RAF as a musician. The horror in my mother’s eyes as she realised that I was serious, and worse, ready to go in as an enlisted man and not an officer… Everything was done to dissuade me. I had weight to lose, and by summer, I was ready, and even more serious. That Summer we went to the US and southern Canada, which is a marvellous trip but not good if you want to lose weight. My mother’s first husband who died, had been in the Navy, and had started a business with an old Navy friend. It ended up killing him, and i realise now why my mother was like that.

My mother had decided that my vocation was to do my A levels, and then go to university, and study either business, law, or foreign languages. As it turned out, it was not my vocation either. It was in a pub after a Hull Philharmonic rehearsal, that one of my mates from the orchestra, said well you could do worse than sign up. In all fairness, she didn’t stop me this time, and after going through the application processes, I took the Queen’s shilling on the 4th of October 1991. I was 19. I went through basic training and was back squadded due to fitness or rather lack thereof. I went through the process again and almost made it. The problem was that the emphasis was on being a soldier, which is not what I wanted. I wanted to be a musician. One of the lads in my platoon was having a rough time and decided to slit his wrists. He was my mate. Potentially someone I would have gone to war with, and have gladly given my life to protect. I took it very badly. My idea that this might not be my vocation changed. The band that I was about to join had been out in the Gulf during the first gulf war, as had a couple of people form the orchestra I had known in Hull. Some had come back with the traumas still fresh in their minds, like the guy who had driven his ambulance into a minefield, and as he was being guided out could only think about his daughter. One of the guys in the band was found dead, with a hosepipe leading from the exhaust of his car through the window. It was too much for him. Some of the training staff were alcoholics as the advice of the day, was to het hammered, and forget about it that way. The mental health guidance given to the armed forces nowadays was a distant dream. I though probably that for my own mental health it was probably a good idea to get the f out of there. Subconsciously maybe, I failed a combat fitness test, that sealed my fate and off I went back to civvy-street. At least this time it was me deciding bout my vocation or lack thereof.  I remember my OC asking me what I would do, and I said I would probably go back to studies and see where it could get me. 

I came back hoe and was told by my parents that my father had been promoted and would be changing not jobs but cities also.  I was told to move to Newcastle first, and with no real idea of what my future would be made of, I headed off. Didn’t really have the choice.  But I do miss my childhood home and city.  Hull will always be the place I knew as home.

My mother told me to apply for such and such a course and to my amazement, I was accepted.  There was one of the students that was in a local TA band, and whilst casually having a pint in a pub, the owner said he was in the same band.  I joined the Burma Band of the Light Infantry.  This is what I was really after.  The music, the ceremonial duties, and playing soldiers from time to time.  I still knew how to shoot, and seemed to fit right in.  That Summer we went to Gibraltar with our battalion, and O irony struck again.  The band I was going to join, was on tour there at the same time.  I saw what could have been, but I was happy.

It was that year that I finally realised that the girl in Germany that I had been writing to since the age of 13, and thought I was in love with, wasn’t going to have any future.  It was then that I started to become a fatalist.  I met a French girl that would eventually become my wife and mother of my two children.   Things seem to happen for a reason as if God was giving you a gentle nudge in the right direction.  I still didn’t know what I was destined to do.  However, I knew that this girl was going to be part of it.

I wasn’t destined to complete my studies and became a proper College drop out.  Possibly because I was trying to please others rather than myself.  I’m still an occasional people pleaser but with time I am getting better, and soooo over it!  We had started to create a relationship out of mutual attraction, a good dose of sex, and actually liking each other as people.  Virginie was fed up of the UK and didn’t see her future there, she wanted to go back to France to live, and that she would like me to go with her.  I was scared shitless.  This was serious and would be a massive change.  I spoke reasonable French and even now, my written French is better than my wife’s is, as long as I know which words are masculine and which are feminine. And there was me that thought I was destined to live in Austria of Germany.  Guess not.

I still had no idea on what I was doing and what the future held and just seemed to get on with life and settle down into French life.  Any idea of vocation and career went out of the window.

We got our first flat, and life just seemed to roll by without any set direction.  I had asked Virginie to marry me back in 1993 and she said yes.  Nevertheless, it was still up in the air.  We went to see my parents in the UK for Christmas 1997, and was told by mother to bloody well get on with it, as there is no point in just letting your life slip by.  Be proactive and set a date.   We did.  It was decided that on the 21st of June 1998 we would get married.  In April of that year, Vrginie and I did the Catholic tango and I knew that my destiny was to be a father.  We had each bought a pregnancy test, and when I arrived home I was told I could take mine back.  From that day, I thought right, here we go.  God had intrusted a child to me and my duty was to help him become the adult he was destined to be.  My father is somebody who lost his father when he was 11 years old.  And when he became my father in 1974 when my widowed mother remarried, he adopted me and was there for the duration.  I realise now, that the instant that you become a father, you’re a father for the rest of you life.  He had set the bar really high for me, but I have always tried to live up to his example.  He is a just man, and always ever so fair.  Each time I have disappointed him, I felt so awful each time.  So this was my destiny!

I have two children.  I love both of them dearly and am trying to do everything I can for them to help them develop into the people that God wants them to become.  You can’t un-become a father.  It’s part of your very essence.  I don’t care about a career, as what I do to earn money does not define who I am.  My social rank, does not define who I am as a person.  Despite the Army telling me I was weak, I know that through my battles with what life has thrown at me, I have the mental fortitude, and strength, to keep going.  I have acquired wisdom.  I have acquired knowledge.  I still suffer from depression but it does not define who I am.  You have to keep going, because others are depending on you. 

My son is now the age I was when I left the UK.  He too has a French girlfriend, and we like her immensely.  I wish them both well, and that they too, find their vocation.  I hope part of that is to become parents.  I’m ready to become Grandpa, and let the next generation get on with their lives.

My old friend

My old friend melancholy is back with avengeance. She’s a bitch and knows exactly what you don’t want to hear. She reminds you that you are in a sexless marriage, that you are useless to everyone, and that you would be better off dead.

If I look for sex somewhere then I’m the shit, but it’s not the “done thing” to impose oneself. And sex is not just the only thing lacking in my life.

I want out. I want to die. That’s why I’m slowly killing myself. When I’m not good I eat, which will only bring me closer to death, and yet, in an ironic twist of fate, if I don’t eat the same fate awaits me.

At least as a fat guy, society has decided that I’m not allowed to be a sexual being. Who would to have sex with me anyway? Not even my wife does, so why would anybody else?

It’s not just about sex despite what society might say. It’s the connection that sex can give its protagonists, or even the intimacy. Since the advent of Covid we have been told to be wary of everyone else. We all have masks on. We are told that we have to socially isolate. We are social animals and this lack of physical contact is ruining all of us. It will leave scars on all of us for years to come. The problem is that I love my wife deeply but it’s as if there’s a gulf between us. Maybe through death I will be able to set her free.

I feel lonely every day. I am on my own every day at work and work on my own, and it’s the same at home. Solitude can be a blessing, but it can very quickly become a great burden. I even feel resentment every time that people ring me at work. I have my work to do and it’s as people are just interrupting my day. How inconsiderate of them.

I will not be missed. There may be slightly fewer photos on Instagram but people get on with their lives. Life continues despite death of one the protagonists. Eventually people cope and “get over it” and the person really is “laid to rest.”

I just don’t fancy dying in France. I want to die at home. It might have been a fashion in 1914 to 1918, And my grandfather had a couple of brothers eho were killed and buried over here. I want to die at home. I’ve been here for 26 years and I’m fed up of it all. Boris may have ruined my country’s future, but it’s still home.

As a Catholic I try and offer my suffering up as a sacrifice for my many sins. That’s what Ste Thérèse de l’enfant Jésus told us. She was dead by the age of 30 and was a Doctor of the church.

I’m not suffering from despair, I just want this situation to end. I know I should just suck it up buttercup, man up, and stop feeling sorry for myself. Easier said than done. That’s what I was told by my form master when I was at prep school. My mother would say the same.

Some would go and offer sympathy on Facebook, as if a message on a virtual notice board would help. I’m not putting down peoples’ intentions, but you have to get real. It’s like putting a black square on social media. It doesn’t help.

Some would say, go and consult. That doesn’t help either. The head shrinkers are madder than me, except they know they are. I just have a small inkling that they’re even more full of shit than my intestines after eating a whole load of fiber.

I don’t hate any of you. I just hate myself. I am told that God loves me. I am trying to believe that, but it’s not easy every day.

Time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana. This is why I hide myself in my bedroom as soon as I get home. It’s why I do photography. At least when I’m out with a camera I’m doing something instead of thinking. That helps sometimes. Anyway. I’m not dead yet so you’re going to have to out up with for a little while longer.

Here is a selection of photos from last Saturday. Long exposure, shitty weather. I was going for minimalism and maybe a couple of shots I managed it. In some I caught ghost figures due to people not caring and wondering into shot.

Please have a better time of it than me. I’ll get slightly better with a little more time. As I said, I’m not looking for sympathy, or for help. I’m just sharing what is on my mind. Thank the Lord that Adele isn’t singing on the radio…

Riding the waves

I have missed you Dear Reader since I wrote my last article 20 days ago. There goes my idea of writing every week out of the window. I have been going through a rough time lately as far as my mental health is concerned. Let me reassure you that I am still alive, but it’s been like riding a roller coaster of emotions.

Stephen Fry once said that depression is like the weather. It exists. We don’t know how it starts, it’s just there. It’s part of our everyday life. We’re not in the depths of melancholy every day. We even have good days. We even have great days where it seems that nothing can go wrong.

However, when it does go wrong, it can go very wrong, and go very wrong very quickly. You of course try and fight it. Which is perfectly normal and a rational thing to do. But this of course takes an awful lot of effort and leaves you shattered. When you are shattered you feel your energy levels gradually diminish, and when it happens to me I seem to have a few basic tasks that I can carry out. One of the hardest of these tasks is to get out of bed every morning and affront the world. But you do it. Because you have to. You drag yourself to work. You manage to do the basic stuff so as not to be noticed. But you withdraw. You are no longer chatty. You avoid people and only talk when necessary.

You start to get feel the presence of “darker” thoughts which become increasingly darker. You start to think the worst, but the you remember that you are so bloody useless that you can’t even tie a proper knot. Yes. My incompetence has saved me once again!

Another of my basic tasks is to go to mass. It was a couple of weeks ago. I was still going to the cathedral on the Sunday night for the music. That night, my body may have been there but by mind was in turmoil. Little did I know that I was already getting better. A voice in my head said, well now, if you’re here, then it means you haven’t given up yet. It was a voice that comes to me now and again. It’s a voice that is the opposite of the voices trying to put me down. Imagine watching a cartoon where you’re thinking, and on one side you have a daemon trying to drag you down, but on the other you have an angel trying to pull you back up. One is violent in its very essence, whilst the other is pure love and gentleness. It’s at moments like this that I know God exists. God is love and where there is love, there is God. This is such a great comfort to me during these dark episodes. Maybe depression is a truly religious experience?

People generally notice that I’m not so well only after I’ve hit this rock bottom and am back on the way up. I have friends that are Catholic also, and have helped me more than they realise. Others offer simple kindness, which is another form of love. Others will just listen and not treat me as if I’m a headcase even though I might feel like one. This again is pure kindness. this kindness is like a breath of fresh air and so precious to me. I would really like to thank those of you but I can’t thank you enough.

My mental health is like being a sea. I am the ship, and get battered about by the waves. There is always a real risk that I may sink and cease to be, but when I’m at the very bottom of the wave I know that I will start to rise again. Sometime it takes a little longer than I may first have hoped. But I will rise.

I have accepted this as being part of who I am. I am fully conscious of when I am starting to stumble. I know the signs. I know what I am looking out for. Can it be cured? I don’t honestly know. There is certainly no quick fix. There is no pill that you can pop that will make everything right again. At best it offered me an automatic pilot for a given period of time.

Some have said that I suffer from Hypersensitivity. I was given a book as a present from a friend and have actually started reading it. I don’t know what to think about it yet. I’m not a great believer in self-help books and don’t believe there is one solution for everyone, let alone for myself. All I know at the moment is that I am feeling better, and am feeling ready to ride the waves one more time.