Hepple for Photos not Gin

Hepple. Even just saying it gives me a certain sensation of pleasure. Heh-pull. It just rolls of the tongue, and the pull sound at the end is tension that is let out and offers some relief. A bit like a fart, but less smelly. Amis de la poésie, bonsoir!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Alnmouth but I like to get out into the country when I visit my parents. You drive into Alnwick, and then through the town past the TA base going up towards Rothbury and the on to Otterburn where the Army likes to play soldiers with live ammo and you are warned not to go onto the land otherwise you might go boom. Going boom is not a nice thing to do and should he avoided at all costs unless you really do want to go out with a bang.

You go past Cragside which as a family we have visited before, in the sun and the rain. It was one Summer and it was raining all bloody week and my mother said we should go out to Cragside and have fun going through the maze on the hills around the very stately home. It was a great idea, except for the fact that it had been raining like a cow taking a piss, and the whole place was waterlogged and we were all wearing crocs (other more suitable footwear from other brands do exist) and that other footwear would have been most welcome. We arrived back at my parents house soaked and a little pissed off. Oh the joys of family holidays during the British summer.

I digress. Je diverge, et parfois je dis bite!

Anyway, you go past Cragside and you will eventually end up at Hepple. I tend to go through the village and park up on the verge after the bridge. You can’t miss it, and if you do miss it the you are on the wrong road.

I have this stupid idea in my head that if I watch enough YouTube and try and learn ever more about photography from the various videos watched, and learn to leave my comfort zone and try new things, then I might discover something new and find out something that I might not even suspect possible. Yes it was one of those kinds of days… I should have known.

I was in the car with my camera and my father for this trip out. For some reason or other, fate had thrown us together and I had missed having sandwiches for lunch at parent’s house and still can’t remember how and why my father was in my car. Well, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to spend some quality time with one of my favourite people. So we had driven off to Hepple. I promise I will get to the end of this story. Maybe not straight away, but maybe by the end of this article.

Parked up. Ready to shoot. Camera out. Lens on camera. And then I just jave to work the scene and try and get compositions and pictures together. Now one video suggested using a telephoto lens for landscape photography. I wasn’t sure about this but tried it anyway just in case. While I was out of the car taking photos my father would be quietly listening to car radio holding one of the lenses as I was doing my thing. Bless him. That man has the patience of a saint. Either that or he enjoyed seeing me doing my thing. It was sharing with him one of the ways I seem to spend a lot of time.

It’s moments like that, that will stick in my memory forever in a way that going to the kitchen to get salt for my wife will be forgotten once I arrive in the kitchen. Not that I don’t want to to get salt for my wife, I just seen to forget very quickly.

So I started of by using my wide-angle lens and the thought, why the hell not, I’ll get the 70-300mm out of the bag and see what I can do with it. A wide angled lens will give you a very wide angle of view and offer up some wonderful distortion. Hence the name wide angled lens. The originality of that name still blows my mind! A telephoto lens however will give you the impression that everything has been drawn in and the background seems to be just being the foreground. It compresses the view… However they still say telephoto lens and not compressor lens. Go figure.

In the photos from this outing I think you’ll be able to see which photos were taken with which pens and of you click on each photos you can see the type of lens used in the description.

It’s one of my happy places and one that I keep going back to. They must think it weird that every summer a French car pulls up and this fat dude gets out with a camera and starts taking photos then gets back into said French car and drives off with souvenirs in his head that will keep him going until he comes back. It was just brilliant being able to just take in the scenery and enjoy being there with my Dad. Definitely a keeper that memory. It was just happiness. Happiness is being out with your Dad taking pictures and just being two men in a car driving across the Northumbrian countryside. These little instances of happiness that just seem to carry you through. Thanks Dad.

A View from the Garden

Sometimes you know that you’re going to get a reasonable couple of shots. The conditions just fall into place. Sometimes you have to break away from your Guinness and your parents hoping that they will understand.

We were out in the garden having a drink before eating that evening. It was a Sunday evening, and the day had been wonderful, and there was me thinking that it couldn’t get any better. It could! I had my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm lens which is a favourite of mine. The previous day’s sea mist had made a comeback. Now fog always makes for some very atmospherical photography as you can see here.

This view is what decided my parents to buy this house all those years ago when they first moved further north from Newcastle. With various winters and storms, some trees have had to come down, but that view through those trees just brings peace to any beholder.

Enjoy and find your peace…

Alnmouth First Day of Photography

As promised, I said I would share photos from my trip to Northumberland post by post. No novels, just photos…

I have got my need for colour out of my system. Maybe. Possibly. Well, never say never, and all that. I wanted to share some timeless black and white photography.

It was my first morning of photography where I sneaked a visit to Scott’s of Alnmouth for elevenses. There was the sea mist that you saw in my article Sea Mist. And when it cleared, it was an amazingly sunny day.

Not necessarily the best of conditions for photography, but as a photographer, I try to adapt to the day’s conditions. Lots of contrast etc. It also avoids getting up the crack of dawn. Thank you Dawn.

Does this mean that I am lazy? Possibly. Do I care? Absolutely not. When on holiday, I commence my day with a cup of tea (or maybe even more than one) and toast. It’s possibly time for a cup of tea right now. As I age graciously, I appreciate these simple pleasures of life. I also still have some Yorkshire tea! You’re jealous now, aren’t you!!

The Queen is dead, God save the King.

God save the King is not a phrase that has been said by my fellow countrymen for over 70 years except for a Cavalry regiment in the British Army who toast the King of Sweden. It is a sad day for my country, and the Commonwealth.

For obituries I’m sure the press has had them written and prepared for the last 15 years. We will hear the obvious references to good innings as we do when ever an elderly grand-parent dies. But Her Majesty was a kind of grandmother to the nation, keeping us together when everyone was losing their shit. She went through war, the loss of Empire, I think 15 prime ministers, or was it 17? Correct me in the comments.

Even though at 96 she may have been closer to death than some of us, her loss to the nation is really like losing a a figurehead that belonged to everyone in this nation. She will be sorely missed by all of us. We will mourn. We will cry. We will comment on what a great Queen she was. We will look also to the future.

The King, is somebody who was born into the job, and was one of the longest servicing apprentices in any firm! His life and the life of his mother has lead him to this moment. Many think he will not be a good King. I beg to differ. Anyone who follows Her Majesty is bound to be overshadowed by her 70 years on the trône.

He will be a different King. By definition he will be a different King. He is a different person. I think he will do a pretty damned fine job of it. We’re in completely new territory here.

The Queen is dead. God save the King

And how did you spend your summer?

Everyone seems to ask that question after the summer holidays when we take leave from our daily toils and worries, and maybe for a week or two, we can create our own little paradise on earth. Some make it to a hotel next to the ocean and enjoy the sun’s warmth on their skin, whereas others will find a boat and spend time in the ocean trying to stay cool. Others will drive all over making that Grand Tour that the Victorians made. Others will be at work keeping the country going. Others will be fighting fires in the Gironde because of somebody’s carelessness in this heat wave, which I wouldn’t really call a wave but rather a smack around the face, with the heat taking away our comfort, our sleep, our water, our rivers, and our gardens.

Whatever your summer, I hope you could find moments of cool, in the figurative and literal senses. What can I tell you about my summer? In four days, I go back to work to start the humdrum of my daily life, and in these remaining four days of freedom, I seem to look back over the previous three weeks wondering where it all went!

It went off to the UK, that’s where it went. I haven’t been back home since 2019 and it was about bloody time that I got back to my roots. Living without roots or being able to feel rooted somewhere that one calls home is an idea that only immigrants can really get their heads around. They left their homes, sometimes forced by evil and unfortunate circumstances, and for others, it was for love and freely entered into. I was lucky to be in the latter category. But it’s still amazing to get back home.

With modern technology, I can call my parents on the phone when I want to, and do so a few times a week. I can hear their voices, but it’s not the same as taking them in my arms and hugging them and really showing them how much I love them. Only when in their presence can I do that. And as none of us is getting any younger, one has the morbid thought, will this be the last time I see them? I tend not to dwell on this rather disturbing question, but one still asks it.

I found a country where everyone speaks the same language as me and where my wife and daughter seemed to cope with what I do every day (ie speaking a foreign language) and maybe it gave them the chance to walk around in my shoes for a while, as Atticus Finch once said in a book a long time ago.

I found a country that had gone through Brexit, Covid, and yet further Tory government and it looked more or less the same. Tired, pissed off, but still exquisite to my eyes. And most of all, it was home. The Germans talk about this concept of Heimat, home, but not quite. It’s more akin to a motherland, or a place where you are rooted. Some could argue that after nearly 30 years in France, France should be my Heimat, and although I am very grateful to have been “welcomed” to France, it certainly isn’t home, despite all the best intentions.

Anyway! I saw my parents in Alnmouth and surprisingly took some photos. They haven’t all been edited yet, as I have to sort and edit them, which will be a hefty job. We didn’t really go wandering like we have in the past, but just tried to relax in the comparative cool of Northumbria. I wandered around the village and even was as bold enough as to go into Alnwick and let my daughter discover Superdrug’s cosmetics counter! Ah well, it was going to happen one day.

I had some time with my father as we drove towards Otterburn to get some landscape photos. It was lovely just sharing with him how I take my photos and seeing this part of me that few people see. We ate with my parents and enjoyed curries, Chinese food, and the tastiest of Sunday roasts. My daughter, that intriguing and sometimes frightening creature, discovered more of her father’s country and just how special it is.

As some of you may know, I am adopted and have been since three weeks after my birth. The story of all that, Dear Reader, is understandably only for those concerned, and during our time in Alnmouth, I had the good fortune to see my birth mother and my half-sister for the day. Afternoon tea and we even had crumpets with salted butter and jam, and tea. Coffee is fine, but tea in the UK takes you to what heaven must feel like!

On our way back south towards France, we stopped off to see my birth mother again. It felt so intimate being able to visit her in her own home. My half-brother’s daughters were there to meet not only me but probably more Kate, their half-cousin who by definition is exotic because she is French! They have, of course, received an open invitation to come over whenever they like. We even saw my Aunty Margie, whom I hadn’t seen for over 5 years.

Then down to Hull to see my father’s side of the family. My cousin Nick and his wife, Maria, received us like kings and I will be ever grateful to him for organising the family reunion where 23 of us gathered in his immaculate back garden. A couple of beers were drunk that day. The following day it was off to see Aunty Mon, and Kate was delighted to see me being scolded as I answered a question for her. Nobody messes around with Aunty Mon! We met up with Nick and Maria in the next village for a pub lunch, with the traditional and nigh quasi obligatory roast dinner! Those two pints of Yorkshire bitter just helped wash down the meal in the most tasteful way.

Sadly, we had to continue our voyage down South and ended up in Dover, where the next day, we were to catch our ferry back to France. We met up with my wife’s cousin for dinner in our hotel, and they discussed everything about family, from gossip to scandal, to the next generation who will carry the family name.

We arrived home and found my newly single son at home and Molly, the dog who have both been sorely missed.

As I read the article, there is one word that seems to stand out, and that word is family. These holidays had nothing to do with visiting tourist sights. It did, however, have everything to do about renewing connections to those most important in our lives after Covid had separated us for so long. That is what the holidays meant to me. I became rooted in my country, my culture, and my family. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to see old friends, but everyone knows that family has to come first. It’s what gives us our sense of being and belonging. It is the visible form of our roots on God’s Earth, however warm that earth might feel during an exceptionally warm summer.

May God bless you and your families, bring you together, heal the eventual discords, and give you too a feeling of being grounded after so long.

It pays to be a winner

At school I wasn’t a winner.  Not really.  There was one time at prep school when I won the First form prize, which was a book about birds.  I still have it! I once entered a competition to win a first day cover of stamps featuring various fish native to British rivers, and won the first day cover as well as postcards of the stamps.  I wasn’t a great sportsman, something which seems to have followed me through my life and therefore didn’t have the chance to win a cap for my school.  Whilst I used to wear green for a living, I would often hear the phrase, “It pays to be a winner gentleman,” being yelled by certain junior NCO’s.  I was of course never that winner, so would have to repeat the exercise with all the other losers.

You get used to being a loser.  In certain respects, it’s great because you don’t have to bother yourself with that maternal ambition that was imposed on you.  It lowers your expectations and you get used to accepting your fate in life.   You ramble along, as you may have seen and read Dear Reader, I am a rambler.  I was fine with that.

Then of course I moved to France.  Try being English in France.  Then again maybe don’t.  It’s worse than being French in the UK.  They lost WW2, yet celebrate VE Day every 8th May.  Oh sweet Caroline, I mean irony!  But that’s fine.  It’s in their mind-set of being the inheritors of the Glory of France.  Then the bastards went and won the World Cup in 1998.  They are ghastly when victorious, and I remember saying to myself, they’re going to talk about this for 20 years…  20 years came and went, and they only went and won the bloody thing a second time!!!

Whenever they beat us at rugby, I am inundated with mentions of how great they are, and yet when we beat them, I am allowed to remain silent and hide in my office!  This losing does have a tendency to teach you about humility.

Now I will talk about the B word, yes, Brexit.  As I may have let slip, I am a remainer, and therefore “lost” the vote in 2016.  Since that time, my life here in France has been in suspended animation, suspended rather than animated.  My future was dependant on a “deal”.  Then Boris came along.  I was going to be buggered one more time, yet despite the odds, we “won” an agreement that would allow me to stay here.  But knowing the French, nothing was certain.  That uncertainty doesn’t help a guy’s mental health and Brexit has taken it’s toll on me.  But less of the grumbling. 

On the 22nd June, 2021, I receive an email from the prefecture telling me to come and see them on the 9th July, with this mail, my old carte de séjour, my residency card, which allowed me to remain in France, and will allow me to remain further.  I arrived here in France on the 9th of July 1994, to start the rest of my life.  I got that mail, read it, and had tears welling up.  For the first time in 5 years, I was turning into a winner.

That week I entered a competition on Instagram.  One of those things where you win a basket full of samples from a shop, and you have to like the post, post the names of two people on the comments, and they will announce the winner in a story.  This was for a shop that sold CBD products and I thought why the hell not.   Well when the story came out announcing the winner you’ll never guess who won.  Yes me!!!  So for a perpetual loser like me, this was amazing.  I was high on the positive vibes.  Things are calmer at home and at work, and I have less pain in my arthritic knee.  Maybe it does pay to be a winner after all. 

I am not a fan of Shadenfreude, except when France is the cause of it.  In the Euro 2020 competition, happening in 2021 because of Covid, no winners there really, France was knocked out of the tournament by Switzerland. I haven’t said a word about it at work.  Wouldn’t be cricket after all.  Oh and we beat Sri Lanka in the Cricket too!  On Tuesday night there was the fateful match, between Germany and England, and I don’t want to hear anything about two world wars and on world cup!!  Even though…. We beat them, for this first time in a tournament in the knock out stages since 1966 when we beat them in the world cup…  The English side of me was very happy, and yet I have been gracious in victory and not mentioned it at work to my French colleagues despite the desperate urge to do so.  Even if I were to mention it, it would be wasted on them and wouldn’t be cricket!  Damn you gracious VICTORY!