First of all, Dear Reader, I wish you a very Happy New Year for 2023! May it be better than 2022 and may it bring you everything you need to continue your life journey. At this time of year, we all tend to look forwards and backwards, and it seems fitting that Janus, the two-faced god, gave his name to January. We look backwards to the preceding year to see what we can learn from our experiences, good or bad, and forwards to the new year with hope and an expectation of change.
2022 saw my first contact with Covid back in March. Not the most pleasant of experiences, and I think I gave it a 1 out of 5 rating… It saw the war in Ukraine, and our fears of Russia going mad and destroying the entire continent. This, despite prayer, seems to still be the case, except at the cost of so much human life. Roe v Wade was overturned in the US and hope was given to the Pro-life movement. It saw my first trip back to the UK since 2019, and it was wonderful being back and seeing family after such a long time. In the final days of the year, it saw the death of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most misunderstood popes of these times. On a personal note, we were so worried about Molly, our family dog, and feared losing her in December. Fortunately, she is a lot better but it was a close shave. It might sound silly to some, how one can get so emotionally attached to an animal, but I swear I was writing her obituary in my mind and crying about the whole thing.
For Christmas this year, I am happy to report a total lack of drama, and on the contrary, think the whole shebang went off wonderfully. This was in part thanks to the visit of two of my nieces who came to spend this special time with us. One of the nieces even came to midnight mass with me and the next day, Christmas Day, the six of us were together for mass which just shows how special Christmas is. It just shows how the simplest of things can have so much meaning and how they can bring us such joy.
I was on holiday the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas. It would appear that I might have even lost a tiny amount of weight, and some of my t-shirts seem to be less tight. It might not last, but for the moment I’m just going to enjoy it.
It was just so special to have time with my family and have them around me. I took the girls into Nantes to share some of my world with them, and believe it or not, I had a camera with me, so I might just have to share some of my world with you, too! The weather was abysmal, but on the last day before the return to work, the sun was out and I went into town to have some special Ian time, and just wonder the streets between confession, and missing the pub being open. It is likely, however, that I pop in this weekend to wish my friends a Happy New Year too!
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 of all, well done for not missing part two of this incredible recitation of fifty-something outings in a lovely part of the world, except where my wife is concerned. She didn’t come because of her great wariness of Paris and all things Parisian. I did want to come, which is how I can write this second instalment. Her loss. She just missed out on all the fun, fun, fun!
So, where was I? Definitely in a great mood, probably not in the fittest states if I were driving, and heading gently back to my hotel after having said goodnight to friends! I had missed out on pudding after my evening meal and knew that I had the Cyrille Lignac raspberry tart to look forward to. I found my room and actually get into it without having to call for help. It was a warm evening after a warm day, but the coolness of the evening was starting to arrive. O happiness, I could get my window open and still reserve my modesty with the blinds. I hit the deck. Well, I didn’t hit. It was like sliding into bed in a happy, sugary, raspberry mood and I drifted off to sleep. Hotel pillows seem to have this magical way of sending you off to dreamland….
I had set an alarm, just in case, but woke up at 6am. Far too silly, but it allowed me to emerge at a leisurely pace, which seems to be my general speed at the moment. Mass was at 11 am, so I had loads of time. Breakfast was between 8am and 10am. So definitely had loads of time. Now came the epic battle with the shower. Trying to work out how to operate it and not getting shot with cold water. Yay, it was possible and turned out to be a lot less challenging than I thought to begin with. I even got the rainfall showerhead to work. It was lovely just being able to chill, listen to Radio 2, and take my time without guilt. I floated down to breakfast, in an incredible mood.
Hotel breakfasts are something I quite enjoy. Self-service, and a chance for me to pretend to be healthy, with yoghurt, fruits, cheese, ham, pain au chocolat, cornflakes and, most importantly, a nice cup of tea. Once you figure out the various dispensing machines for the hot drinks, you’re fine. I finished before 10am to respect the fast before Holy Communion, and floated back up to the room and looked after my skincare and beard care routine. I may be a fat git, but I like to be a well-groomed fat git. Bag packed, and ready to check out knowing I could leave my bag at the hotel until my train, a very useful service.
The Church was on the Boulevard Montparnasse, just beyond the cinemas and cafés. It was a beautiful church dedicated to Our Lady, and the frescos high up on the walls were perfect for visualising the episodes of the Rosary. An old lady came up to me and gave me a hymn sheet and the Parish bulletin. She was one of those sweet old ladies that you can’t just say no to. I saw others that tried but saw how futile it was. Obviously an old girl on a mission. Three priests as well. Music that brought a tear to my eye. It was lovely. After mass, I said my Rosary and headed off into town.
We had arranged to meet up at the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre which has one of those Art déco metro entrances that you see in all the photographs. I got the typical shot and regretted not having stayed around to get more detailed shots. Maybe next time. Because, as Arnie said, “I’ll be back!” We met up at the appointed time and meandered through the streets to the Funicular. I would not walk up those steps. Let me bring you back to the leisurely pace concept mentioned earlier. As we were going up, I showed them where I would probably have had a heart attack if I were taking the steps… We got to the top and spied an Irish pub. Well, it would be rude not to. We ordered a couple of pints from the typical Parisian waiter. The man was running around like a madman. We knew straight away that he wasn’t having a good day, showed appropriate empathy, and won him over. There was the pub itself, a speaker blaring out rock music, and the guy was covering three terraces. Another girl looked after serving the food. We waited, waited, and waited some more. We gave the order to the waiter, whose back was obviously giving him gip, and jokingly said he should try some cocaine for the pain. He jokingly replied that he was already on cocaine, and I think having seen him zooming all over the place, I believed him. It was just poor management, and a lack of staff, and they were doing what they could. Anyway, we were about to leave and the food came. Not the right order, but the right order was there fairly soon afterwards. We were debating if we shouldn’t just cut our losses and leave and just pay for the drinks. Anyway, we saw people coming up the stairs that we had given up on. Some were actually running up “and down” and “back up again” obviously being far too sporty for a Sunday Lunchtime. We saw a “pétasse Instagram” posing and being photographed by her mother. Obviously getting the Paris trip shot for her feed. Something I would never do… Maybe I should? Big dude being a “pétasse” and posing like a pretty, young, twenty-something. It could be style and a sociological view of beauty standards on the Internet. Or it could be bloody awful. Maybe not then.
We looked over the panorama of Paris, trying to identify the buildings we could see. I even saw a tower in Romainville near where I used to live when my wife and I lived in Paris, or rather just outside Paris, in those close suburbs you see on the news, but not for the good reasons. I do love living in the country. Sacré Coeur is an amazing church and crowns Montmartre like Our Lady, keeping an eye over Paris and the Parisians, making sure they do nothing too stupid. We wound our way through the narrow streets towards Place de Tertre, which had been overtaken by restaurant seating pushing the artists to the edges of the square. I kept my eye on Dom who was keeping his eye on Vanessa. It was mid-afternoon and after nearly 30K paces in the weekend; I was knackered, and those taxis were looking very appealing. We walked down to the bottom of the hill and saw a poor tourist being ripped off by the game of the three cards and you have to follow the Queen, etc. A good old-fashioned tourist scam. It was simple spotting each member of the team, and I felt sorry for the poor guy.
We arrived on the boulevard, but the heat, fatigue, and knee had got the better of me. I’m not good at goodbyes. In fact, I would even say that I hate them. We hugged goodbye, and I descended into the abyss of the Paris metro, arriving parched at the hotel to fetch my bag. I must have looked awful as the guy went and got me some water. Maybe looking like a fat old guy has certain advantages to it? I took my bag and crossed the road to the Montparnasse train station. I could buy some food and water. Knowing exactly where I would go to eat and drink, English voices that reminded me of young English public school boys filtered through. It’s always strange hearing your own language in a foreign country, even though you might expect it in Paris.
I was headed to the platform when my train came up on the boards. My electronic ticket worked and allowed me through the gates. I boarded the train and sat at a table for four. The other seats were taken, but being in first class, people attempted to be quiet. The lady opposite me offered to take my bag for me and put it in the rack at the end of the carriage. I felt guilty because it was heavy, but she was very gracious about it. My headphones and tablet gave me that sense of privacy and I watched YouTube on the way home. In the group chat, I informed everyone that my train was on time and I wished them a pleasant trip home. Normally it was planned that my son was going to pick me up at the station in Nantes, but Virginie told me to get a ticket from Nantes to Montaigu, which I did at Montparnasse and told me she would pick me up at the station in Montaigu.
Once home, I just got naked and went to bed, in a very non-sexy way. I just wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible. Work would start at 5am the next morning. Not the easiest of things. It was a wonderful weekend, and I was so happy to have met up with friends from home and Sergio from Nantes. It was like having a bit of home coming to see me and was just what the doctor had ordered. With all the various Facebook posts and reels, and I suppose this article, we have dragged that weekend out to nearly three weeks. So Happy Birthday Vanessa. Welcome to the 50-year-old club. It would appear that it happens to the very best of us.
Do you know how sometimes an event in time keeps you going? It could be getting home after work, leaving work for lunch, or even having a cup of tea and a slice of something nice from the bakery. What kept me going was the idea of seeing friends, two friends that I had not seen since COVID. It was Vanessa’s 50th birthday and Dominic, her husband, thought it would be a wonderful idea to take her to Paris for an entire week. I suggested it might be an idea to meet up in Paris and that I would come with my wife. Overnight stay so we could have an evening out and not have to worry about getting a train whilst slightly squiffy!
I haven’t been home since 2019, and this was like a bit of homecoming to see me. I met Dom 39 years ago when I left boarding school and went back into state Catholic education in my hometown. In between getting my head kicked in by various other pupils at the school, we became friends. This continued through school, and we found each other on Facebook whilst doing the whole nostalgia thing. But the friendship from our childhood still held strong. I met up with him when we were in the UK in 2019 for a week. It was as if time had just gone out to pee, and just came back as if the intervening 35 years just didn’t happen! I think the fundamentals of our personalities and character traits don’t change all that much, but despite life experience, these fundamentals remain constant.
So when he told me about the Paris trip I thought, well, my wife and I know a bit about Paris, and what a perfect excuse to go up to the Capital and have some fun. Let’s just say that my wife does not share my passion for Paris. The biggest part of it is having grown up there, and only seeing the downside. She once went back with my son when he was little and after having spent time out in the country. It all felt foreign to her, and the icing on the cake was almost falling for a tourist scam. She had become a human being. Since that encounter, she gets worked up at the idea of going to Paris. She let slip that she felt she couldn’t come with me and that I would go alone. Not as a slight to Vinnie and Dominic, but because she would make my life a living hell.
So there you are. I would go on my own. I have a friend from Nantes called Sergio, who lives in Paris at the moment, and I added him to the group chat and he was full of ideas about where to eat and not too expensive places either. It would be good to see friends and introduce old friends to less old friends.
I booked my train and then got emotional about the high prices of Parisian hotels. I ended up finding one, reasonably priced, and just next to the Montparnasse train station where the high-speed trains from the West of France arrive in Paris. In between the actual booking and getting on the train, the entire trip kept me going. I was in a great mood. It was like escaping from real life for the space of one weekend.
My wife took me to the station, I found the platform, scanned my ticket on my phone, and was let through. The booking was for 1st class not because I’m fancy, but for €10 extra, you get a quiet carriage and a larger, more comfy seat. At the very ripe age of 50, and being a slightly rotund gentleman, and I thought the €10 was worth every penny, or centime d’euro. I told the group chat how my train had left on time and that I would be in Paris at Montparnasse at such-and-such a time. Nothing more to do than watch YouTube on my tablet and try to find places to visit and magnificent tables to eat at. I waited an hour at Montparnasse, waiting for Dom and Vanessa to arrive. They seem to be less good at using the metro than I am. Then we played the game of finding the metro exit. With modern technology, photos and smartphones, we found each other and headed off to my hotel to get rid of my bag, as my room wouldn’t be ready. Whilst chatting and walking to a café, Vanessa spied a smoked salmon bagel. I spied it too, and we went in a got it for her. Dominic had a chicken curry sandwich, and I spied with my little eye a chocolate macaron. Did I ever say that I have a weakness for cake?
We settled at the “Café Montparnasse“, sat down on the terrace, had a beer, and then judged people walking by. So it would not be a dry weekend. Ah well! Somehow, with the metro, we ended up at Le Bon Marché, where I wanted to get some lovely socks. Yes, I’m 50, slightly rotund, and like a certain brand of socks, which were in the sales. Don’t judge me! Vanessa found some very nice perfume and treated herself. You’re only 50 once! We found the Grande Epicerie. Mind you, it was just across the road, so not overly difficult to find either. It had everything that we needed for our picnic, including bread, wine, and various goodies, that were perfect for a Parisian picnic. They were both very impressed! Sounds good to me.
We visited the convent where the Miraculous Medal was revealed to Soeur Catherine Labouré. Now I knew all about it and had visited it last time with Killian. We got the article up on Dominic’s phone, and they were both suitably impressed. Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s an exquisite place and well worth visiting.
Sergio told us about the Convent gardens as a great place to picnic. We found a seat in the shade, and out came the Opinel and corkscrew. We opened the Bergerac 2016, and it was right up Vanessa’s wine street. Even Dom liked it. I’d chosen a bottle of Muscadet for him for later. We ate, drank, and just talked the time away. Can’t think of a better way to spend time.
Well, actually I can. I had been a good boy and was therefore allowed a treat. Not too far from the convent was a bakery. That’s not much of a surprise. We are in France, after all. But this one was owned by celebrity Patissier Cyrille Lignac. I had heard great things about this place and had been convinced by Sergio to give it a visit. He knows of my weakness for cakes. The cakes on offer were exquisite as they should be, but they seemed to have even more class! They looked beautiful. I’m a fan of chocolate cake and nearly had one, but the Raspberry tart was just screaming out at me. I bought it and spent maybe too much time thinking about how it was going to be lovely to sink my teeth into.
We headed gently back to my hotel so I could check in and I changed shirts and freshened up but tried to hurry about it as Dominic and Vanessa were waiting downstairs for me. The room was fine, not huge, and the bed seemed as if it would be comfortable, which is always good.
Our venue for dinner that night would be the Café Montparnasse, which is one of those typical Parisian Bistrots with good food and excellent drinks and where you don’t feel judged by the waiter. I can’t remember what time it was, but it was too late for tea and not quite time for dinner. However, the French, in their infinite wisdom, have given the world the Apéro, or pre-dinner drinks. You get a little something to nibble on too. We told the waiter that despite the three of us, there would be a fourth person joining us. The gentleman led us to our table on the café terrasse. We ordered our drinks and got back to “juger les gens et mater les culs.”
Sergio, thanks to his parents, is Mexican and can have a slightly different idea of time from us, more northern Europeans. The French also have this concept of having a drink to make the absent person arrive more quickly. Again, pure genius. By drink number three, Sergio arrived. Vanessa and Dom were very English in greeting him, and I, of course, was very French and gave him “la bise.” Google it. The more time went on, and the more drinks we had, the camper Sergio got, and it was such a pleasure seeing them all getting on so well. Dominic had Chicken and chips, but French poulet in a nice sauce, and some frites, if I remember correctly, which is not something I’m good at, I think Vanessa had something quite healthy like a salad, and Sergio and I had fish quenelles, which were just divine. Vanessa and Sergio have a common love for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” and were quoting whole chunks of it, and debating the veracity of the language. It had been decided, after our lovely meal, that we would seal our friendship by having a nightcap somewhere along the Boulevard Montparnasse. I found my church for the mass the next morning, which thankfully was at 11am. Vanessa let slip that she had been a majorette and took my cane to show Sergio how to twirl. Sergio’s life goal is now to become a majorette! We said goodbyes, and I went to my hotel to get some sleep and be ready for the next day’s activities. Dear Reader, you will have to be patient, and wait for me to write part 2!
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!!
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…
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…
This might be a bit of a strange post and is more a reflection of how my spiritual life seems to be going and might be a little Catholic. You have been warned.
Do people ever regret Lent? Not the spiritual aspect of it, but the structure and discipline of it. Although I didn’t eat meat or drink alcohol this Friday, it was as if something was missing. I have stopped the daily Rosary but am thinking about going back to it as a daily thing, or at least trying to.
I went to the Easter vigil last Saturday night. The church is in darkness as Jesus hasn’t yet risen, but you know the outcome… There were children giving out candles and the mass sheets. Those of you who know, know, but for those of you that don’t know, let me tell you a bit about how the service goes. The priest and altar boys, there were about 5 priests for this special mass, congregate at the entrance of the church and light a fire. This fire is blessed and represents our Lord’s rising from the dead, and God’s light illuming the world. The Paschal candle is lit from this fire and blessed and will be lit at each Mass during the Year. All our candles given to us by the children are lit from this Easter candle and gradually the church has God’s light lighting up the whole church. This bit always gets me every time.
We hear the creation story. God said there be light, and there was light. God saw the light and said that it was good. It’s not something we hear every day, but there you actually see God’s light lighting up the faithful listening to his word.
The next reading tells us about Abraham and how God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son. Abraham, out of fear and out of love, does this. The altar is made and Isaac realises what is about to happen. Thankfully, God that Abraham wants to do the will of God and passes the test. He sends an Angel to tell Abraham not to do it and sends a lamb to be sacrificed.
These Old Testament images of the Lamb of God have so many parallels with sending his only Son, Jesus, as a sacrifice to save us. Jesus knows about the sacrifice even when He is a child with His mother Mary and stepfather Joseph. He knows about the Passion that He will have to endure and accepts it fully. It was one of my many meditations that entered my mind whilst praying the Rosary. Another was, I can’t be the only person making the parallel between the Lamb of God, given to Abraham and Jesus, giving Himself to us?
The next reading is from Exodus and recounts the Children of Israel being led by Moses across the Red Sea when escaping slavery in Egypt. The Angel of the Lord passes over each house, killing the firstborn of each family except in the houses where the blood of a lamb has been smeared on the door. Again. I can’t be the only one that sees the link to the sacrificed Lamb of God saving us? Also, when Jesus left Bethlehem to escape the killing of the innocents by Herod, he escaped into Egypt? Again, one of the ideas that pop into my head when praying the Rosary.
Next is a reading from Isaiah. It talks about how the people of Israel are akin to God’s wife and how he calls her to Him, and how He will treat her, i.e. not like the people of the time of Noah. He tells us how God will have mercy on His people, remain true to them, will teach and love them, and never again abandon them again. I might come back to this paragraph later and edit it. I have just realised that I should study the prophets more. The realisation that we know nothing is the beginning of wisdom.
The fifth reading is again from Isaiah and encourages us to trust in the Lord our God. God calls us to Him and reassures us. We have to trust in His mercy as a child would his father. His thoughts are above our thoughts. His way is not our way. But we must listen to His word, which is not sent in vain.
The sixth reading comes from the book of Baruch. The people of Israel are rebuked for not having listened to God. We are taught that wisdom is listening to the Word of God and prudence and through this, we will find peace, unlike some. Let us listen to God’s word, find the great wisdom in it, and remain true.
The seventh reading is from the book of Ezekiel. Through their love of idols and worshipping falsehoods, God says how He will reign down with fury, and at the same time, cleanse them with clean water. We will have a new body and a new spirit. Just as at our baptism. Through baptism, we are reborn into our life with God as one of His children.
At this moment the church bells ring out to announce that He is risen. We the recite the Gloria.
Follows an excerpt from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, and then the responsorial psalm as in any mass.
We then turn to Luke’s Gospel to hear what happened on the morning of Easter, just after the Shabbat. To those who criticise the Church about the role of women, just remember that it was the women who went to look after Jesus’ body. Not the men. The angels appeared to the women first asking them why they were looking for the living one amongst the dead. They were the ones who received the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Not the men. When they returned to the apostles, nobody wanted to believe them. St Peter, who was the rock, and first Pope had so little faith that he had to check for himself, reached the tomb, saw the folded shroud, and then ran home amazed. It comforts me in my own fragile humanity. During the next week, when Jesus appeared to the Apostles to show them all that He had vanquished death, Thomas had gone out to do the food shopping. He comes back and sees the rest of the Apostles happy, and doesn’t believe them either. And yet the women believed with unquestioning faith. Thomas says he will only believe when he puts his fingers in the holes left on Jesus’ body by the wounds received on the cross. When Jesus reappears, Thomas is told to put his fingers into the wounds of Christ. He does and falls down, saying, “My Lord and My God!” Jesus replies, “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen.” These words bring me so much comfort. I don’t feel blessed every day, but it is nice to know those words. During the consecration, I say those words when the offerings become the body and blood of Jesus.
Now that we have been comforted in our faith, we have the “fun” part of the Easter vigil. Catechumens will be baptised. For the Catechumens, they will be free from sin and their old lives. They will become part of the Communion of the Saints, part of the body of the Church. During the Litany of the Saints, we ask the Saints to pray for us, and the Church. Their intercession is so important to us. The font and water are blessed. We join with them our baptismal promises, reject Satan, all his works, all his empty promises, renounce sin, desire to live in the freedom of the children of God, renounce the lure of evil, so that sin may have no mastery over us, and renounce Satan, the author and prince of sin. These are powerful words and I know they certainly help me reflect on my interactions with others in their world.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist follows and we take Holy Communion, where we become one with Christ in His sacrifice, and partake in communion with Him. He feeds our souls with his body and blood. He is indeed the Lamb of God, which saves us.
The communion is over; we give thanks to God. The priest blesses us. Ite missa est. Deo gratias. We then go back into the world, but reinforced in our faith through the sacrifice of God and the sacraments.
I went to the pub to enjoy my first Guinness after forty days of Lenten abstinence. I was OK, but not quite what I was expecting. Did I miss it? Yes and no, but more no. Maybe this Lent has seen a change in me that I wasn’t expecting. I miss the daily Rosary or at least trying to recite my daily Rosary. I don’t seek happiness here on earth, but I have had profound moments of peace of mind spiritually, and joy in succeeding in my Lenten observances. It has been an entire week since Easter and tomorrow is Divine Mercy Sunday. It feels almost an anticlimax, even if nothing could be further from the truth. Thank you for getting this far in a very Catholic article. I appreciate your efforts. May your God bless you in the same way as mine does me.
Last week I wrote about Palm Sunday and the importance that it has in the liturgical calendar. Today I would like to talk more about photography. In my article about the Canon 6D Mark II and the 16-35mm lens, I talked about how it seemed to be a less productive day, and it was indeed, and that next time would be possibly different. New day, and different light, by definition. Well, it was.
Spring has sprung, we have changed hours on the clock, and the weather seems to be a little less despicable with some nice sunlight, whilst still having some lovely light fluffy clouds to be amazed by. Whenever that happens, I know how I want my camera. I want it, firstly, with me, otherwise, photography becomes a more laborious pursuit. Secondly, when doing my editing, I want to reproduce the effect of putting a red filter on my lens as if I were doing black and white film photography. The blue skies become darker and the fluffiness of the clouds just seems to pop out. Add a little contrast, and bob’s your Aunty, or Uncle depending on his or her pronouns…
It might seem slightly old fashioned to you, but I find very this type of image very pleasing, and it gives off a certain old-timer vibe, and as an old-timer, at least compared to the young timers, I’m more than happy. Everything is relative anyway. Maybe I am of the age where I no longer care about impressing people and just want to do things my way. I’m not saying I don’t love a compliment either. All men do. Ladies, never underestimate the power of a compliment to a gentleman. We may seem cool on the outside, but on the inside, this compliment will boost us for ages. Try it. I dare you!
I parked the car at the Feydeau underground car park, and just walked along towards the castle, and for me as an introvert, actually dared to ask somebody if I could take their picture, at least a picture of their shoes. The young lady was most obliging and said yes. Thank you. One of my favourite photos of the day and in “colour!” Then the famous Miroir d’eau, which is more subtle than Bordeaux’s water mirror, but in Nantes, you get the reflection of an enormous castle, which is where I went next. Don’t worry, you won’t have to follow each and every pace. You can do that by looking at the photos at the end of the article.
I parked the car at the Feydeau underground car park, and just walked along towards the castle, and surprisingly for me as an introvert, actually dared to ask somebody if I could take their picture, at least a picture of their shoes. The young lady was most obliging and said yes. Thank you. One of my favourite photos of the day and in “colour!” Then the famous Miroir d’eau, which is more subtle than Bordeaux’s water mirror, but in Nantes, you get the reflection of a huge castle, which is where I went next. Don’t worry, you won’t have to follow each and every pace. You can do that by looking at the photos at the end of the article.
To sum up, a very fruitful outing, with a break at the pub, so, even more reason to describe the day so worthwhile. Thank you for following and feel free to share your impressions. I promise not to bite!
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