Hello Dear Reader from a rather sunny corner of France! My mood is like the weather. Warm and blue skied, and my disposition as sunny as you could wish.
I have had it said to me that my last few posts have been far too inward looking and intopestcive. So if you’re reading this then it means you have been patient with me and I would like to thank you for it. One person even said that “I had flogged it to death!” Again fair criticism and with hindsight this is probably true. Thank you for being honest enough to tell me. Tough love…
I would however like to try and explain myself. To start off with this blog was going to be about photography and showing photographs from when I went out every week with my camera. It was going to show the photography that doesn’t get shown anywhere else.
Like most creations it seems to evolve and change over time. The Covid19, the crazy bat fuelled light beer disease came along and changed all our lives. The writing, as a creative experience, evolved too. Then I wrote my first article with no photos. Wow, what a rebellion against my original goal.
So, when writing, one can have a tendency to write what one knows the most about. Well,for me, that would be me, my past and present and what I hope my future might look like. Stuff came out of my head and onto the screen. I would write with no censorship. It became a therapeutic exercise.
The article I wrote in November was a liberation for me and a new experience. Ok, a bit dark, darker even than he dark side with their cookies. But over the next articles, with some ever so important therapy, it has allowed me to heal and has given me so much peace of mind. I would even say it has helped me vanquish my inner demons, that have been there for far too long.
It’s like I’m so happy that I want to share this happiness with you too. It’s new for me so just let me get over the novelty value of the whole shebang, and then we can go back to boring photos of cats, Nantes, and other places. I might even share some of my photographic processes with you.
When this person told me all this, I was furious, although calm. But in retrispection she wasn’t all wrong. We all have issues, all of us. The past always creeps up on us and can shout “Boo!” at the most inopportune of moments. And let me assure you, this has happened. But, evacuating and exorcising these troubles has been a revelation to me. I have been told, “we don’t do therapy.” And I get that. Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone. I’m lucky. But you don’t have to cry alone, I had help, and this help has changed me, and I like who I am right now. Not perfect, but perfect enough for me.
Thank you for bearing with me up to here. Again I would like to offer my apologies for making anyone uneasy, or even shocking you. It is my story, and I accept each and every detail of it. I possess it and it no longer posesses me. Let’s hope my story can have a happy ending, but get this people, it’s not over yet. And that’s great.
I am truly blessed. I have some very good friends that are wonderful people. Jean Guillaume is one of those people. He personifies kindness, gentleness and positivity, and an example for us all. No wonder he got to marry Stephanie who is just as wonderful! You may remember in a previous article that I went to Paris with my daughter. It was a great day out, but I of course had to put my daughter first. So I did, but I did say that I would go back to do some photography on my own so I could concentrate on capturing images and not to have worry about somebody else.
Now some of you may know that I frequent a certain establishment in Nantes and some of my friends seem to hang out there too. Some are in front of the bar and others behind the it. I was sitting outside talking and Jean Guillaume comes along to meet up with his wife who is with us. We’re all talking and I let loose that I’m going to Paris on such and such a day and he says he’ll be in Paris with his Mum and that we should hang out. What a great idea. Sounds like a plan. I needed to go to the barber’s and he should probably come along with me. We are men, but sometimes we need pampering too.
It’s decided we’ll go and get ourselves done at the barber’s. I look up various addresses online and get us booked in to Grizzly Barbers. The name sounds fun and I get him the works. He deserves it. Self care is important and it’s good to be good to a friend when you can.
My wife and daughter had gone off to see a friend north of the Loire and it was half way to her mother’s house so they went up there too.
I was a “free man” but used this freedom to get myself sorted out. So Thursday came around and I headed up to Nantes to get the train to Paris. 1st class was only 5€ more so decided to treat myself. Slightly larger seats and a bit more leg room. And you get to feel extravagant.
I was on time for the train except my electronic ticket didn’t want to work. I tried pushing up the luminosity of my phone but to no avail. The departure was getting closer and the guard called Rennes, who told him that my ticket was valid and I was allowed on the train accompanied by the guard. The train journey itself was fairly uneventful which is a good thing and my friend asked which wagon I was in and that he would meet me off the train. I arrived and headed towards the top of the platform, and after showing him a photo of exactly where I was he said turn round and saw him! My first stop would have to be Marks and Spencers to get a picnic lunch. They have sandwiches which are like having a bite out of my childhood and spark so many memories. He knew the area and we went off to eat in a park. It was wonderful just chatting and sharing.
Sitting in the park chatting.
After we had eaten he showed me around the Montparnasse Quartier where he used to live and hang out. It was all very beautiful and very Parisian. I explained that the only imperative that we had was to be at the barber’s for 1pm, and prepare ourselves to look great afterwards. It felt good to back in Paris and it was great being there with a friend. I knew a little of the area but was far from knowing it an intimately as Jean Guillaume. There were some great photos to be had and he was so patient waiting for me each time and telling me that I was about to be run over etc.
With time flying by we headed to the car and drove to the barber’s and managed to find a space just outside. I was amazed! I would be scared poopless driving in Paris by my friend seemed to thrive on it. Maybe the fact of it being August and really empty helped. They had all gone on holiday! A word of advice to anyone visiting the capital. Go in August, half the people aren’t there and the half that are still there seem to just want to chill!
and managed to find a space just outside…
When you enter Grizzly you can tell that it is a very high end and high quality barbershop and the service was excellent. My barber and I talked about our mutual passion for photography as he shaved my head the old fashioned way, and then proceeded to do my beard. I made sure my barbershop virgin friend got the whole whack. Hair cut, beard cut, getting his nostrils waxed, and a neck massage to finish with. He deserved it. It’s important for guys to have a guy place for being pampered. Even if you don’t go every week, it’s worth it maybe every three months. It wasn’t cheap, but so worth it, and worth every cent! I’m looking forward to going back. Definitely an experience. Jean Guillaume was certainly more than happy with the whole shebang and felt fabulous, and looked great! What more could you ask for?
felt fabulous, and looked great!
I spotted a camera shop and we parked up and went in. It was like a child entering a sweet shop with many things of great beauty. I saw a 15mm lens for my Pentax ME Super, but at 1350€ I thought it might be difficult to justify spending as much. And my wife would kill me! I did however come away with a little Olympus Pen EE S half frame camera which is something I’ve been looking for for such a long time. An amazing find, and the day I go back to Grizzly, I may have to go back and visit that little shop. It was turning out to be a great day.
I was asked where I wanted to go, and I said the Marais, aiming to get to the rue des rosiers which was, and still is, the epicentre of the Jewish community in Paris. It’s an amazing place and on Sundays it can get very busy. I went into a Jewish bakery. Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel! I was about to correct that. We had been in book shops with art, we had sat in beautiful gardens eating chocolate covered raisins. We even got as far as Beaubourg. Time was still flying by, and we had to go and see a friend and give him his flat keys. Another good deed for the day.
Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel!
The last stop of this epic day was going to be WH Smiths on the rue de Rivoli. Bookshop, with such a great choice of books. I ended up buying The English, by Jeremy Paxman, and a couple of books to give me some light reading about what it means to be English, and Irish. They also have some food essentials for anglophiles like Yorkshire tea; I already had some but still came away with a few goodies for my wife and daughter.
We sat outside the café where we had parked. Wine for one, and a pint of 1664 for the other of the two friends. They discussed everything and more. They were chilling as friends do and looking back over the day they had shared together with new and old experiences for both of them. It felt good to be alive.
They discussed everything and more.
The last stop was Gare de Montparnasse where the trip had begun. We headed off to Marks and Spencers to get our evening meal. I had selected a few sandwiches to eat on the train, and a few more goodies for home too. We headed up to the platform to where my train was to leave from. Little did I know then that I would not be getting on that train. Jean Guillaume waited with me for my train. There had been a blue Adidas bag that had been left on the train and over the loud speaker came the announcement that the person who had left said bag should come and get it and that the train was being delayed.
After a certain time, soldiers had got onto the train, more police had come along. Things weren’t looking good. Crunch time came when I got a text message from the company to say that the train had been cancelled. My friend was still with me and explained what they had just said over the tannoy. I had my bags with me and my walking stick over my arm. Apparently they were gong to try and sort out hotels for us and allow us to take the train the next morning.
Now whilst listening to this i turned around and hit somebody with my cane. Not hard, but enough to get “the look” so I very quickly apologised and with Jean Guillaume we diffused the situation. But we got talking to the lady I had just agressed with my cane. Then all of a sudden he said, “I can take you back!” My first reaction was to say no, but the idea worked it way very quickly into my head, and we would drop off our new friend Annie on the way back. I phoned Virginie to prepare a bed for our guest and I knew we had what we needed in our bag to make a wonderful breakfast.
The decision had been made. We would drop off Annie in Angers, and then head home to Nantes. We found a corner shop that sold us some water, and a couple of chocolate bars for Jean Guillaume for energy, and then a café that would sell us a coffee. Those little Parisian coffees that just wake you back up. We said that we would pay gas money and road tolls. It was out of the question to leave our friend out of pocket! I also said I would do some of the driving if needed to help out.
The trip back was quiet, at least for some of it as I had drifted off to the land of nod. I was woken up and asked to just chat to our heroic driver. It was a pleasure and we looked back at our day, and how wonderful he now looked, as well as plans for the future, and we put the world to right. I took over the driving, and when we needed more petrol we stopped off and I filled up the tank. We got to Nantes station a 3.30 am, and I found my car. The machine to pay for the ticket didn’t seem to want to work and neither did the interphone when we tried to talk to a technician. There was a homeless guy sleep with his girlfriend sheltering out of the rain who lifted up the barrier for me to get out of the car park, but I still paid at the exit and thanked him for his efforts.
I thanked Jean Guillaume, my hero, for getting me back to my car, and he went home to his hunny to surprise her, and I drove the last kilometres to get home to my wife and daughter. Heroism is when you go above and beyond the call of duty, and Jean Guillaume was a true friend and a true hero. So thanks once again, Jean Guillaume, ce héro!
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.
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.
To start off with this was just going to be a short preparative article before I publish my the photos from my night time article about night photography in Nantes. I was going to start off by talking the pubs opening in England and Ireland tomorrow. I wanted to show you the way that the new normal isn’t like the old normal but it’s still OK and that you can still enjoy meeting up with friends and rediscovering each other after lock down. Our bars reopened on the on the 11th of May so we’re kind of used to the whole thing. We put on our masks if we have to move around the bar. I might be half English and half Irish, but after a certain quantity of ale we all have to visit and inspect the plumbing. Just put the mask on and don’t forget to wash you hands afterwards;
So I’d finished work at 11h45, and was free for the whole afternoon. When I go to Nantes I always park in the same place. I’m a creature of habit. So, I park, and as soon as I come out of the car park I put my camera to my to check my settings. To start with I had the Helios M44-2 55mm lens on the XT2. It’s a lens famous for its swirley bokeh, but on the APS-C captor it’s more tricky to get, but it’s still a beautiful lens. I take a few shots of Bouffay. The bikes, the tramlines.
I wanted to capture the textures of the street. In black and white one can’t capture colour even if that colour information is present in my RAW files. I was looking for repetition of patterns, wanted to to get depth of field, wanted to play with the light reflecting off the street and capture people coming through the pool of light.
Strangely the pub isn’t very far away from these photos and I strangely I found myself sitting down with a Guinness in my hands… I had my mask on, and my hands have never been cleaner. It’s good to be amongst “my people” once more. I think that’s what I missed most about lock down. Having this social group of people who are good to me and make me want to be good to them. They know their names, and I love them dearly!
Well I wasn’t expecting that to go there… I’m such a sentimental old fool. I have hugged them and have made a real special effort not to break their ribs whilst hugging them.
So here are the photos of the pub where my “people” seem to congregate.
So it was already a great night, but I wasn’t there just for a good time despite rumours in certain quarters that I will always deny of course! I wanted to take even more photos. I had the Fujifilm XT2 and the 7 Artisans 35mm F1.2 lens which turns out to a be a manual focus, 50mm equivalent. I usually like to go wider, but that’s my little secret!
When I’m next in Nantes, hit me up! I’ll usually tell people on my Instagram and come up and say Hi! I might even buy you a beer. If we talk, be ready to talk about photography and this fair city of ours. If you have any questions about the photos in this article then just ask! I don’t bite.