The holidays

Hello. I have a friend called Julie Dodge and she is a photographer in Brooklyn NY. I have asked her to mentor me and maybe put me in a different direction with my photography and help me develop as a photographer. She’s full of talent and is somebody that I admire greatly. She suggested that I write this article.

Did you see what I just wrote there? I said the holidays, not Christmas but the holidays. Does that mean that I’ve become all woke and don’t want to offend? Not bloody likely. Christmas has come and gone and now we’re in that holiday limbo, before New Year’s Eve but just after Christmas.

Even during winter I sleep with the window open so as not to be too hot in bed (and don’t go reading anything unto wards into that statement, this is not that kind of blog!!) and we have just come out of the other side of Storm Bella. At least according the noise of the wind. and not that wind either!

When I think back to two weeks ago, Christmas felt so far away. I had 36 hours left at work and the whole holiday thing just hadn’t sunk in at all. Christmas could have been 6 months away and it wouldn’t change a thing. 2020 has been weird like that for everyone. The Christmas tree was up and running at the very end of November as was quite common. Maybe just a way of people trying to find a modicum of normality since normality just ran away with the light beer virus and some guys getting freaky with a bat in China.

I listen to the radio at work which is a wonderful and a great way to stay up to date with things happening at home back in Brexit land. On BBC RADIO 2 (that I can’t help hearing the jingle in my head when I say it) they had decided that they would play only Christmas music on the 1st of December to usher in the Christmas Season. Best day ever at work! I love it. You’re constantly listening out for Whamageddon or All I want for Christmas is You. That music would accompany me throughout December and keep me going.

The factory was going to shut for Christmas and I would finish work on the Friday lunchtime of the 18th.

I had been doing a whole load of product photography for the company. They have an excel file showing all the references of all the hardware that we use and a photo of each article. However the photos they have are not up to the required standard. Crap would cover it too. I told my boss about this and said I could do a better job of it. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it would allow me to learn something new. I went onto Google, YouTube, and then on to Amazon to get a light box, which is a box of light which allows you to get a well lit photo of each screw, hinge, and other things that I don’t know how to translate into English. That’s not as bad as it seems. Everyone talks French at work. Strange isn’t it. The only English they all know is how to ask where Brian is. Brian is invariably in the kitchen. But not when I looked for him!

This also explains why I had my camera with me. As of the 15th of December we had finished with confinement and had now entered a new phase. No confinement but a curfew. They also said that the curfew would no be enforced for Christmas Eve which meant that people could spend Christmas together, but would be enforced on New Year’s Eve. This is despite our dear President’s love of secularism or the infamous French concept of Laïcité. Go figure. Maybe it’s a sick joke, or could it be that he knows that he won’t be voted in next time if he cancels Christmas.

But I digress, or in French, je diverge, parfois je dis bite! It was Friday afternoon and I was freeeeee. Yes. Freeeeeee!! I’m free, I do what ever I want, any old time…. I decided to head into Nantes to make sure that my family would have the same amount of gifts and therefore not be jealous. It was wonderful. This new found freedom and all I had to do was to be home by 20h! I of course had my camera with me and it was the closest I had been to normal for ages. My last stop would be the HAB Gallerie, which is on the Île de Nantes, and where there is a massive crane, but don’t forget that size does not matter. And a crane can be grey or yellow and that is fine too. It felt wonderful! This is where the photos in this article are from in case you were wondering. I think the photo of the huge crane give it away.

Christmas came and went as did the food, my son, his girlfriend, quite a bit of drink, and some great laughs. We are now in the Christmas anti climax. No church this year. Maybe Covid is laïque as well. All a bit strange really, but it was good to be able to celebrate as a family. But “strange” has been the bass continuo of this year 2020. 2021 is just around the corner and people are putting way too much hope into it.

With vaccines, time, and the continual social distancing, things will get better. Things will gradually become less strange. I even dare to think that people with rediscover social interactions and above all discover how important they really are. Some will look back and think I did well to get through this, some will regret not having done enough to help others. Some will have toilet roll till the ends of their days. But when we come out of the other side of this period, we will have all changed. Society will have changed. There will be a new normal, and not necessarily the one that that the hippies are hoping for, but a new one anyway, in which we will need time in which to find ourselves.

Thank you for still reading the drivel that seeps out of my mind on a more or less regular basis. There will still be photos to look at. Until that happens, I wish all of you a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas. May your God bless you.

Merry Fu**ing Christmas

I’m presenting another entry for the « Understatement of the Year 2020” competition.  It’s been a strange kind of year.  I’m wondering how I am coming out of it.  Trigger warning, I may talk about mental health in this article so get over it pussies!  Normally at this time of year, I’m never really good and this year is no exception.

I think I may have given you the image of my mental health being like a wave.  At the moment I’m going back down.  People try to practice gratitude for everything as a way of ‘curing’ depression as if it were a rather fine ham for the Christmas table.  Well not me.  I should be happy.  I’m on holiday in 2 and a half days’ time for two weeks.  I should be happy, but I’m not.  I have a loving family.  I should be happy, but I’m not.  I have a roof over my head, and my family wants for nothing.  I should be happy, but I’m not.  When I think back to the ‘actual’ Christmas where Joseph was carrying his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, and couldn’t find a place to stay.  Air BnB hadn’t been invented, and he shouldn’t have been happy, but he was.  There was joy in his heart.  I should be grateful for all I have, and yet…

I have food from home.  The kind of stuff I can’t get over here, and I should be happy, but I’m not.  It’s awful.  Yeah, I forgot the Bisto for the Christmas dinner, you useless fool.  You have so much to be thankful for, and because you’re an ungrateful little shit, you feel even more guilty.  I can’t go to mass.  Last year I could and did.  I went to the Cathedral in Nantes and remember crying with joy at hearing the beautiful music from the organ.  I remember feeling physically moved and the music just passed right through me.  But not this year.  A Rawandan immigrant had been refused a residency permit, and the Bishop though he would employ the man as a janitor, and the guy who would lock the place up every evening.  The guy got rather upset about getting kicked out of the country and decided that he would burn the place down.  That beautiful 400 year old organ is no longer there and it breaks my heart.   There’s an article about that somewhere here.

That was last year.  This year is slightly different.  This year we discovered a virus, named after a light beer, and then the aforementioned beer producer found an other name that wouldn’t hurt its brand.  I present COVID 19.  A crappy name with an unobvious prime number.   We found out what it was like to be under house arrest, I mean lockdown.  We were told not to touch people and avoid people.  An introvert’s dream you might say, but I still maintain that we are a social animal, and when you take that away, we suffer mental health consequences.  Then they decided that, “oh shit, the economy is going down the drain, so you all have to go back to work, but have to wear shitty masks that you will end up becoming allergic too, whilst looking as if you have a speedo on your face, and when you beard pokes through, it looks as if you have pubic hair that needs clipping.”  You are not allowed to congregate at the coffee machine, and not allowed to stand next to eachother.

Then Summer came along, and the government said you can all go off on holiday, and so it seemed that the virus had done the same.  People felt as if the phoney war had ended and that it would all be over by Christmas.  I still can’t remember what I did this Summer.  Not because of Covid, but my brain just went on strike.  I know I got some good photos, and apparently, I went to Paris, but it’s all a blur, and I’m not talking about the band from the Nineties!

We could even go to the pub.  Then they said, that you still had to wear masks, but as soon as you sat down you could take them off etc.  This Covid Prime can’t infect you if you’re sitting down, having a pint and financially supporting the Guinness family!  Height restrictions and all that.  They had to move tables further apart, and then the Government said you had to close at 10pm and take a register of clients, with their phone numbers.  This was of course done, and then the G man said, well, you’re going to have to close anyway.  We’re going to launch the sequel to Lockdown, to be known as Lockdown II, the Sequel, not coming to cinemas near you because they’re shut too!  But for all those people not working in offices, you can still go into work but you have to come home straight away afterwards and you can’t meet up with your friends, etc..

Then they said OK we’ve finished messing with you.  Lockdown II is over.  Yayyyy, I can go out where the heck I like and don’t have to have a piece of paper saying where I’m going.  I can go to anywhere in the country I like.  I still can’t eat out of have a drink, or do anything remotely cultural, oh and the twist is that I have to be back home by 20h and can’t go out before 6h.  Bastards!

In other news recently in, a vaccine has been discovered.  Hang on, no that’s not right.  Three vaccines have been discovered.  The Chinese and Russians even have one, but they don’t count apparently on the news.  Not only have they been tested, but they have been approved!  But you can’t have one you fat slob.  Stop eating, and exercise, and loose weight!  You’re way down the priority list.  Nope, they’re for care workers, old dying people, the older people who aren’t dying yet, and then slightly less old people that aren’t dying, but not dead yet, and so on.  If you’re already dead, then you’re not eligible, oops…  #toolatemotherfucker  It’s either a very sick joke or somebody, somewhere, knows something.  And what is Bill Gates going to gain by being able to remotely control old people from a distance anyway?  Are they going to get uppity and rebel when the tea trolley doen’t have any more Chocolate digestives?  Other digestives are available, just not for the old people!  They’re probably going to go strike and die just out of spite.  We went through the war etc!

Now they’re talking about bubbles.  Bubbles are no longer about blowing, but are about families without the blowing.  All depends on the family I suppose.  I can have people in my bubble over for Christmas.  But not because the government said so.  I live in France, and they said that the curfew wouldn’t be enforced on Christmas Eve so people could gather, but only six adults at a time.  But if you think you can meet up for New year’s Eve, then you’re buggered!  So, you can officially celebrate a Christian Religious festival, and yet not the secular piss up at the very end of the Year.  And all this in an extremist Secular country, that is being mean to the Muslims, to stop those naughty Islamist shooting an beheading us when we make a joke about the Prophet (pbuh).  Double standards or what, even for French politicians.  But as that Luvvie Noël Coward said, there’s something Vichy about the French.

Don’t get me started about Brexit!  Biggest mistake since the French thought they could fish in another country’s Sovereign waters and get away with it.  Oh wait…

On a more positive note, Trump has officially been voted out by the Electoral College in the United States of America.  Let’s hope that the new guy will be better than the last President.  

I still feel pretty shitty despite the Christmas music on BBC Radio 2, but at least I managed to get some of my frustrations down on paper.  It’ll get better by Christmas…

Christmas 2019

Merry Christmas dear Reader. Ok. I know I’m a little late but that’s fine. Most of these blog posts have that impression of being slightly out of sync like a news reporter talking live from outside Parliament, or a badly dubbed film… trust me, I will wish you a Happy New Year by the end of June, I just don’t know in what year yet.

Christmas has been great this year. For those who know me I’ll just let that sink in. For those of you who know me as a tea drinker and cake eater, I mean cake amateur, this is the first Christmas where I have not been depressed for so long. The others can come back now.

I always make a difference between Christmas, and the secular Christmas , which is all about joining the orgy of consumerism, eating,and drinking. The kind of Christmas we have in France, buy all this nice food, buy all this nice wine, buy the expensive presents for those you love, and you will have happiness and people will love you. They’re so good at fooling us that we fall for the same bullshit year in, year out.

The Christmas I had this year was post Lourdes and my return to the Church. I still bought presents for my family, and loved the presents my family gave me. One was a machine that made tea. And I’m always so wary of people that claim that it is possible to make tea without using boiling water, scalding the teapot first etc. This machine is actually rather good. Will wonders never cease?

Right. Back to where I was. I travelled though Advent and what the readings in Mass during Advent teach us. I went to confession to prepare my soul. I asked God to bring my family together and celebrate the giving of Christmas the way that God gave us Jesus, Emmanuel, or God amongst us. Maybe before I was the problem, because this year I was in such a different place mentally.

We have a tradition of always having somebody over for Christmas who is alone or not with their family for Christmas. This year, it was a friend of Killian’s whose family had just suffered a death. He needed to be elsewhere as a self preservation mechanism. The table was laid out with finger foods, but the good stuff that makes this meal special the way Christmas is special. There was wine and beer. There were Christmas crackers that had been spotted my daughter in the shop where I get various cakes and sweets. The French don’t do Christmas crackers, and my son’s friend was slightly put off by the English tradition of putting a stupid flimsy paper crown on. but he did it and we all had a good time. I had just one beer so I would be clear to go to midnight mass.

Midnight mass started with a service at 23h30. As I drove up to Nantes there was hardly anybody on the roads. I parked and had never seen so many spaces in that car park. As I walked though the Quartier Bouffay, I could see nobody on the streets. I could see windows with lights on, and people around tables. As I walked pas the Sainte Croix church, I could hear the singing of hymns already celebrating Christmas. I saw the Soldiers guarding the Church just in case. I wished them Merry Christmas and felt thankful that it wasn’t cold. I walked on past Decré, past the Place de Pilori, and on towards the Cathedral. As I advanced, more people seemed to join me. Otherwise Nantes was sitting down to eat.

The Bishop said mass and the music was special in a way that only Christmas music can be. Despite being part of the body of the Church and celebrating mass like so many other Catholics in the world I felt alone. I was missing having my family by my side. I would have to wait for the next day, Christmas Day, to be able to have my wife and two children with me. That made my Christmas. That and really good tea, and some lovely Christmas cake with cheese on it…

PS. It’s actually the Epiphany today today, so technically I’m not late yet.

The last Saturday before Christmas

I have said it on here before, and I will say it again. I have moments of folly, where lucidity says bugger this, I’m outta here punk! And so it was the Saturday before Christmas. I had agreed to meet a friend in town and help her choose presents for her nephew and niece in Switzerland. I also thought I could get to confession and prepare my soul for the feast that is Christmas.

I was slowly getting used to the Fujifil XT2, and thought, right, I’ll go out early and try and get a space before everyone else has the same idea, and get used to it even more. I arrived at the car park and had to wait at the barrier, but was patient.

I phoned my friend to say that I had managed to park the car and felt slightly smug. I texted her and she said she was still in pyjamas and having her coffee. Ah… Well I wasn’t expecting that. But that gave me some time

Whilst learning photography back in the day when I had hair, I used a 50mm lens, and learnt how to use it through and through. It was years later that I acquired a 28mm lens for my Praktica MTL 3, and really got into it. Later I continued when I got my X100F (35mm equivalent), my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm zoom lens. So it seemed logic to get a wide angled lens for the XT2. I ended up getting a 16mm which is a 24mm equivalent. Not too much distortion but still nice and wide.

Parked in Feydeau, and just next to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle, I thought why the heck not, and headed up there. I just went with no specific goals, and waited for the photos to present themselves whilst walking around. I discovered a little art gallery that I hadn’t seen before and it was a real inspiration.

I walked towards the Fnac where my freind said she wanted to meet me. She was getting a record player for her girlfriend and wanted my help to choose. We chose, and headed to Sugar Blue Café for lunch, which was one the good ideas I had that day. A vegetarian salad, and for the desert we got to cakes. One was the Christmas cake, which had red fruit, crème de marron (which is a huge favourite of mine), and covered in Marscapone icing, the other cake was a Stracciatella Cheesecake, which was sooooo naughty. That’s wrong, both were amazing, and I’ll just have to go back after they get back from their Christmas break.

I told her that I wanted to go to confession and she said she would go and try and find an Ugly Christmas Jumper for her Christmas meal. We stopped off in a shop that does paper crafts for the presents for the children. We parted, I went to church, and we met up after the rain to go to the Comptoir Irlandais to get all those Christmas goodies that you can’t get anywhere else. I needed bickies, and cake for all the tea that I would be drinking over the holidays. We finished up in the Pub, and I was able to present her to my friends there. The restaurant across the road had no tables left!!!! O disaster! I had a plan B. My plan B was the Reine Margot and although it looks like a fast food joint from the front, the menu tells a different story, and when you get past the initial corridor, you enter the restaurant. We started with snails, then duck, and I finished with a chocolate cake, then back to pub for a swift drink before heading home.

All in all a lovely day, with a lovely friend, and I was happy with the catch of photos for the day.