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.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Everything is in the title, to be honest. It’s Boxing Day today, therefore the aftermath of Christmas. I hope you all had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. I have a cousin whose plans were altered because of COVID. The post on Facebook showed a beautiful London living room decorated for Christmas and you could feel the deception in her writing. Thankfully Covid doesn’t last forever, and this new south African variant seems slightly less menacing than the one from India. Is the old Empire trying to get back at the Mother country for past wrongs?

At the end of each year, we all seem to have this primaeval urge to analyse the year just gone by. With Christmas just finished, you’ll realise this when you watch the news with all the look-backs on 2021. This year has been yet another year that I haven’t seen my parents. All this Covid bollocks is annoying the shit out of me! I haven’t seen them since August 2019, and it’s long. Too long. I’m fortunate enough to still have my parents still alive, and I know that so many people have been left without since this Covid. At first, I tried to joke about it, but it’s not been a joke for quite some time. Our lives have changed in so many ways and we have seen our leaders being completely defenceless against it. Policies have been brought out, each one being even less coherent than the last ones. Boris has been caught out not obeying his own rules and has so much egg on his face that he could prepare an omelette for the entire country. He appears to be finished as people no longer want a posh bawdy wannabe comedian; I mean Prime Minister, lording it over them. In France, it appears to be just as ridiculous, with the Président Macron contradicting himself all the time and just shouting loudly to show that he is “managing” the crisis. People might accuse me of being a tad conspiratorial when I say that this crisis has been used to erode individual freedoms and “track” us even more than before. The one thing however that is not codswallop is the vaccine which I would urge all people to get. “Big pharma” definitely is making millions out of it all, but do we really have a choice in the matter. I don’t really fancy dying just yet and feel that I may still have things left to do in this strange life of mine.

Now that my mini-rant is over, I suppose it is now the moment to tell you all how our Christmas went. This might take some time, so please try to bear with me. It might even be worth the read. As always, I will try to start at the very beginning, which is still a good place to start. ABC and Do Ré Mi etc. Get out of my head Julie Andrews!!

The factory shut its doors on Wednesday at 5pm, and we were freed. No need to come back until the 3rd of January 2022. Might as well go home and try to get into the Christmas spirit, whatever that is. My short-term memory seems to take the mickey yet again. I know I went out with my daughter to Nantes for the day and we ended up in the pub eating fries and having a quiet glass of something with friends and just enjoying being together, which is what pubs are for, after all. The drinks are just a side attraction. I’ve just looked at my phone and it was last Saturday. Thank heavens we have our phones to tell us what we did. Anyway, it was on that evening that I said to my friends that I would try to come along to say hello on Thursday night before they shut for Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Back on track. I sent a text to my wife that since we were both on holiday, then we would go for a drink at the pub, and then attempt vainly to get a table at a restaurant for a nice little something to eat. Full of optimism, I even texted my son to say that since it was going to be -2°C the next morning at 2am when he goes to work, that I would take him in. Strangely enough, he took me up on my offer. So off to work we went, and I asked when the “girlfriend” would come over. That night I was sent out by Madame to do the Christmas food shopping, and take my son to wash his bedding in anticipation of the “girlfriend’s” visit.

Driving to the shops, he let slip that it wasn’t even sure that she’d be there for Christmas. Oh, clucking bell! Red lights just started flashing, and the drama was just beginning. He looked so despondent, and above all didn’t want to “talk about it.” So that was that. I don’t know if bullshit tolerance is at an all-time low because of my age, or that I simply don’t need this shit anymore. My daughter was amazing at helping me with the shopping, and even packing it all away in the car boot. I know she’s at that “difficult” age, so I was just enjoying being a good guy for once, instead of Papa, who just understands nothing! Small mercies, people, small mercies! We picked up my son and his spotless sheets and went home. He would shower and then just go to bed because of his early start the next morning. My daughter had prepared something to eat in the microwave and everything was hunky-dory, even though a little subdued because of the mal-être of my son.

I arrived home and dumped the shopping in the kitchen.  My wife was getting ready for our date night and looked lovely!  We don’t get much time like that so every minute is so special.  I couldn’t get my poor upset son out of my mind.  Well, stop talking about it then.  Well, sorry for being concerned about my son.  But merde, we never go out, and just let them deal with their own shit!  I had been told and remembered that is more important to be kind than right and to choose my battles well.  This was not the time or place.  I kept driving and shut the f up!  Probably a wise decision.  

We arrived at the pub and said hi to people behind the bar and to other people that can be found behind the bar but not tonight.  They’re all friends anyway, and I do enjoy their company but tonight is date night.  I had some vitamin G, and Madame had a Leffe.  The restaurant is just across the street and yes, they had a table for two. You know that funny feeling you get when you kind of recognise the person sitting at the table next to you, but that’s all.  No precise idea.  Little did I know that the lady lived in Newcastle the year after we did, and moved back to France the year before we moved to the Vendée.  It turns out that it was the mother of a young friend that used to work in the pub and whose girlfriend still does.  Definitely a small world.  It also reminded me not to diss the French too much when I talk to my wife in English when out and about.  Or even about and out.  You never know.  I know that the French need to be put right on a wide variety of subjects, but it was still time to be kind and not right again….  Damn you conscience!!!

I was allowed a pint before going home.  Wonders never cease!  I saw the weather for the next day and sent a text to my son telling him it might well be raining at 2am and would he like me to take him to work at 2am.  Again, strangely he took me up on my offer.  I can hear my father telling me what a big softy I am, and my mother telling me that I am too soft.  Ah well…  There goes a day….  Again….

On the way to work, my son seemed slightly better than the previous evening, so I supposed they must have “talked things through.”  I knew that it was a tad early in the morning or in the middle of the night depending on your point of view, but since he was finishing at 11am I could have a lie-in.  Or at least that I what I told myself.  Little did I know that he would phone me at 8am telling me he had finished and could I please pick him up!  Oooh, the little bugger!!  Give me 10 minutes son, and I’ll be on my way…  10 minutes later I was indeed on my way to get him.  However, it was his turn to be nice to his old man.  I didn’t care if he was going to see his girlfriend for Breakfast, he was going to help me finish the Christmas shopping in the market in Clisson.  He carried everything back to the car for me.  Bless his little cotton socks. 

So this all sets the scene for Christmas Eve.  Virginie, bless her, would tidy the downstairs part of the house, whilst I would take Kate to Nantes, and eventually find some stocking fillers for the children. I would then be in the kitchen preparing the Christmas meal.  Boeuf Bourgignon, from a vintage recipe by a certain Constance Spry.  Those who know will just know!  I was busy as a little beaver, ok, let’s be serious for one moment, a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver.  I am always wary of skinny people who cook…

Everyone was there.  Well, my wife had spent time preparing the salmon, fake caviar, and foie gras.  The “girlfriend” was taking photos with her new camera and a rather snazzy lens.  Everything is always fine when we just talk about photography.  My daughter, or so it would seem, decided that she no longer wished to have her photo taken.  I know this is a cue for me to put my camera down and change subjects.  The “girlfriend” however, did not.  Oh, bugger.  Here we go again.  The shit storm had just been let loose and words were said and things just got shouty all of a sudden.  

I had an “Oh bollocks!” moment.  We had a situation Houston.  I had a screaming 12-year-old in the living room, two very young adults in my son’s rooms arguing about how Kate had been mean.  Female violence is not like male violence.  Men will just kick several tons of crap out of each other, and then go and have a beer and get over it.  It would appear that this isn’t the same approach with ladies, where one will talk about an unclean hob, and what happened to her brother.  I know it was low, but don’t go down that road.  It’s not good.  So my wife came down and asked what the hell was going on, and I had been in the kitchen creating culinary miracles so I only had second hand and possibly biased information.  

Situation report for everyone.  One 12 year old in her room feeling shitty for having ruined Christmas, two you adults arguing in their room, over analysing everything and getting everything wrong.  One furious wife, and how dare they ruin her bloody fucking Christmas, and they had bloody well get a fucking move on downstairs because everything was ready.  At the precise moment I was wanting to put on body armour, and a helmet and take cover.  I would have been quite happy to go and take cover in my own room and sod the food.  A cheese sandwich would have been fine, we could always eat the stuff on Christmas Day!  

It is better to be kind and not right, and it was time for a cheese sandwich however appealing it might seem at that very moment.  Who could imagine that some cream cheese on one slice of bread, Branston pickle on another slice of bread, and a couple of slices of mature cheddar, could make a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver, rather happy and forget WW3 that was starting.  The children were told how furious my wife was and how they had better bloody well come downstairs this bloody instant.  The “girlfriend” said she was going to see her mother.  Oh clucking bell, here we go again but assured us that she would be back soon.  I took cover on the sofa, and eventually, the “girlfriend” came back, and my daughter had remembered how it had been decided that presents would be opened at the apréro.  The daughter went to tell the lovebirds that it was time to come down for the presents.  Two attempts were needed but her peacekeeping skills were amazing.  Five people around my table were no longer wanted to kill each other, but open presents.  Peace had come back to the proceeding.  Our own little Christmas miracle.

The youngsters spent Christmas Day with her family, and therefore not my problem anymore.  My daughter stayed with us.  I sent a text message to our neighbour asking if she wanted to come round for tea, or drinks.  Seeing what time it was I knew it would be drinks.  Ah well.  Into the breach once again!  It was nice.  I was calm.  I spoke to my parents who indeed told me how soft I am with that lad, and how Christmas can lead to a little drama.  I think that I am not a fan of drama. 

Jardin des Plantes, Nantes

This story actually begins in my village in Vendée, with a foray into the next town and its Saturday market. But you could argue that it began earlier in Nantes when I bought my son’s girlfriend an old film camera, a Canon AE1 with a 50mm f1.4 lens, that I nearly kept for myself, but in a pang of culpability, couldn’t. I would have replaced it with a more classic standard 50mm f1.8 lens. Damn you conscience!

Let us start therefore not at the very beginning but the second beginning, which is like the first beginning, but is in fact the second, thus being named the second beginning, but is still a rather good place to start as the Sound of Music told us whilst explaining the notes to sing by using a woodland creature, the sun, me, a long long way to go, sewing, a note after the previous one, an afternoon snack with bread and jam etc.

I might start at the very beginning after all.  My son’s girlfriend is on a journey, much like myself, discovering photography.  As some of you Dear Readers might have noticed, I’m ever so slightly old-school.  Having a digital camera, and shooting like it was a machine gun hoping for the best is not my idea of what photography should be.  I am more sedate, probably because I am more rotund middle-aged gentleman, aka fat bald git, but find that it suits me.  I prefer to take my time.  One of the advantages of film photography is that it forces you to slow down, and concentrate to take a picture, with apparently, but I’m not quite sure, supposedly even, more value.  When I take a photo, I take a photo on purpose.  I do not do it whimsically on the off chance of realising “the” shot.  I also learnt on film, so maybe this is a habit I picked up early on.   

Anyway….  I thought this might be a way to help Elise slow down, and to be more mindful when photographing something or someone.  Mindfulness is all the rage at the moment, but I think it might just be more about taking your time and being conscious of the action you are partaking in.  I refer the reader to the middle-aged rotund gentleman comment earlier.

I made sure she had some film in the camera so it was useable straight away, and explained to how to focus, not just the lens but mentally too.  Explained what all the dials and displays were about and basically let her get on with it.

We are now at the second beginning, which is still an OK kind of place to start.  The day is Saturday, and the previous day we had arranged for them to come over for lunch, and I said that I would go to the market and get some goodies, which means basically, some nice saucission, cheese, nice fruit, some duck sausages to be eaten later on during the week without necessarily needing to duck whilst eating them, but duck sausages, because they were made with duck meat.  Obviously a duck that didn’t….  I came home with my goodies, and was told off for buying too much and how were we going to eat all that….  We gave it a fine go!

Elise then had the idea of doing the typical after French lunch walk, and we were all told that we would be doing it.  However, a friend phoned to invite her to a pyjama party, so there went that idea.  I riposted, saying that it was fine and that we should go out into Nantes to take pictures the next day with the film cameras.  I prepared a couple of cameras for them to use, and some rolls of film.

Even if we didn’t go out I knew I would be at least good for a nice cup of tea.  For Christmas, which was well before the beginning beginning, and even the second beginning, I had brought my daughter a mix to make Madeleines, which French people automatically associate with Proust, in the same way the English automatically associate a cup of tea, with another cup of tea.  The smell as I came down was amazing a filled the house with loveliness and sweetness.  There was also a huge dash of tastiness when I bit into Madeleine number one.  I showed immense self control and put four of my Madeleines into a box with a further half a dozen to share with Killian and Elise.  They too, were very happy with my display of self-control.

The enthusiasm for “going out for a walk” from the previous day had all but disappeared, but we eventually set off for Nantes to visit the Jardin des Plantes, which was where Jules Verne once hang out back in the day.  Tradition, tradition, tradition….

I had my X100F, which I adore, Killian a 1960 Kodak Retinette 1B, and Elise the infamous AE1.  We made a good go at it and ended up cream crackered after a nice long walk.  As the all round good egg that I am I made sure we passed by an open bakery on the way back to the car to get the a treat for the gouter, which usually is the four o’ clock snack for small children, that older children or younger adults still seem to enjoy, even a middle aged rotund gentleman….

More  Portraits

I have a wife, and my wife has friends from her work. I therefore have friends from her work. One of these friends has a husband. This husband is therefore a friend of mine. Not only that but we were invited to celebrate his birthday with him. As my present to him I said I would take along the studio and set up in the garden. Which,believe it or not is exactly what I did.

I was up for the experience of photographing other people outside my perfectly dysfunctional family. I wanted to see if I could build up a relationship however temporary with my model and end up with a half decent photo.

I based it on a self service photo opportunity and not force anyone who didn’t want to pose, to pose. So out come the extroverts and then the shy introverts.

Booze helps as always and people were getting more relaxed as the booze started having an effect.

Only drink with moderation, if you can find him that is.

Les filles et un garçon

As I think I’ve already told you, I am in the middle of trying to learn about this portrait palaver! I had watched the videos, I had perused the books, I had bought the equipment, I just needed some willing victims. Erm, I mean models. I was going to see my perfectly dysfunctional family for the weekend in Brittany so I was going to have to charm them into sitting for me.

We were of course late and as usual it was my fault. Who else could possibly be to blame? Just remember that the previous day I had been in Paris with my 10 year old daughter. Now I’m not trying to invent excuses but I’m certainly claiming mitigating circumstances.

But it was still my fault. all my camera gear was downstairs and ready to be loaded into the car. My son was still with us and helped me. I had my backdrop, my flash, my camera, which is pretty important, my soft box, my trigger, and everything, or so I thought. Little did I know that I had forgotten the stand. I wasn’t going to go home to get it, otherwise I would never live it down and going 200km and back for a stand might seem a little unreasonable. I think reasonable is about 500 metres and I will still incur the wrath of my wife.

We made it in one piece and after a while I wasn’t being yelled at either. What I didn’t say was that I needed to fill the car with petrol and that was going to add on time. I also bought some water too. Hey, if you’re going to be late , then be late for a reason! The other reason was that there was loads of traffic on the roads too as it was the 14th July weekend. Our average speed for the 200km was 56km/h.

We settled in, and I unloaded my kit and started cursing myself for having forgotten that blasted stand, bordel de merde de mes couilles, but it’s a learning curve and I had just learnt to load everything myself so I’m sure of everything. Ah well, I was going to have to without the flash set-up and just use natural light.

The next morning my brother in law posed for me and gave me a chance to explain to everyone how the whole shebang worked. I also got a really good photo of him that won applause on his Facebook wall, which is praise indeed! We were going for the philosopher look….

my brother in law, Vincent.

Can you feel that 80mm F 1.8 bokeh creaminess? Just the right ammount to look like an understated sex symbol… Even I’m starting to get flustered!

The results had really given me a confidence boost and my sister in law was so impressed that she needed no coaxing to sit for me. It was going so well that my niece wanted in as well. My wife and daughter had obviously forgiven my short- comings and I ended up taking photos of all of them.

It was a fun moment and I think one that will be remembered for the right reasons. I couldn’t have hoped for better.

The Quiberon Peninsular

As any visit to my French family worth its salt, there is always drama. Drama and booze. This is why I refuse to drink whilst there. Usually everything is my fault. I am the immigrant after all! But this time it wasn’t me. I was in such shock that I had to go and lie down after lunch. I was respecting the ultimate French custom of the sieste. It was for digestion. And the fact that I was knackered always being alert for not saying the right thing and pissing everyone off.

So as I said, this time it wasn’t me, or my brother in law, who is the other family scapegoat. All of a sudden I heard world war three coming from downstairs. I thought it wise to stay in bed and pretend to sleep. One the fallout had fallen out, I risked going downstairs asking what the feck just happened and making sure everyone knew perfectly well that it wasn’t me this time as I wasn’t even there!!!

My brother in law doesn’t follow my zero booze rule, was just really mellow. A really nice bloke and we reflected laughing about our near 30 years of victim-hood. We are really in the Zeitgeist!

People had dropped off and disappeared to the beach before going to the restaurant that evening to allow my mother in law to just sit at table and be served. There is an important rule in her house that must be respected at all times. Anyone who has a penis is not allowed in her kitchen. I have a penis and therefore the kitchen is out of bounds. I daren’t even make myself a cup of tea, and don’t get me started about cake.

As usual,I had prepared the terrain. They know I don’t like going to sit on a beach. I don’t even go swimming. I’m so fat that there isn’t a swimming costume my size. Also those bastards from Greenpeace come along in their zodiacs and try and push me out to sea. The first time it happens, it’s all fun and games, but the second time I start to get slightly miffed! I therefore do not do beaches. What I do do is to take photographs. As I hadn’t partaken of the daemon drink I was able to drive, I could drive. I could escape. And escape I did. I actually thought about going to the pub in Nantes, but then I would really be up the creek without a paddle. It would almost be worth it, but I’m not a masochist!

I thought I would take my camera and go to Quiberon and go and see the Côte Sauvage, and a beach where I had already taken some nice photos with a film camera. Tell me if you want to see those film photographs then I might have to think about editing this post and add them later.

But here I was with my Fujifilm XT2 digital camera. I also wanted to use colour in these photos. I know…. Not black and white. What is happening to me? What has the world come to?

Sooooo, I was on the coast and in the zone. My mind was just doing instead of thinking. All reflective powers had been given up in order to concentrate of getting “the shot.” I like being like this. It is my coping mechanism. And you need this. Why is being with my mother in law like going camping? Because it’s so fecking intense!

I had done my first beach. I went to the first car park on the Côte Sauvage. I parked up and then started looking for shots. All of a sudden my phone goes off, and I have my wife yelling at me for being a fecking idiot and how in God’s name was I supposed to be at the restaurant on time. I learnt what a dick I was and how I never think of anybody else, and I’d bloody well be there at such and such a time.

I didn’t have the address and nobody had talked to me about time etc. But this of course was my fault. It’s a shame because you may have had more photos to look at. But I did what I could.

Let me assure you that I am still alive and despite being yelled at when I told them what time I would be there according to my GPS, I was still keeping it together man! I followed the exact route that the GPS sent me on, and I actually arrived at the same time as everyone else. I didn’t speed. I am not a sporty driver, I’m a middle aged fat guy who takes his time. O sweet irony. They couldn’t believe me. But the proof was there for all to see!

Let’s get back to the photos. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to leave any constructive criticism. PS I do actually like my wife’s family, and some of the members of said family are actually quite normal and decent people who are not psychotic or hysterical.