Happy New Year?

Happy New Year Dear Reader, and thank you for continuing to read my twice monthly drivel that spews forth from my  obviously damaged mind. Maybe it’s reassuring for you to have somebody madder than yourself?  Or maybe I just admit it and embrace it!

I think at the beginning of any year we always look back to the previous year and basically just hope for the best. That’s  exactly what I did in 2019 and look where it got us!  So this year I’m going to look back and search for the great positivity from 2020. 

I think many of us would describe 2020 as the shittiest of years for a long time.  We were introduced to Covid and saw a lot of our everyday freedoms curtailed in quite a disconcerting manner.  Our dear President Manu, declared that we were at war with this deadly virus.  And made sure the press scared us into complying with some very draconian policies to “protect” us.  So to those who are still alive I say, well done!  To those of us who are still alive I  say, don’t forget those who didn’t make it.  I’m not going to go into inflated figures of Covid related deaths and all the conspiracy theories that might exist, because when you’re  dead, you’re  dead, Covid or no Covid. 

At the beginning of my year I am usually on holiday from work and will think how far away August seems until we get to go on holiday again.  I, like many of my colleagues with look to the month of May, and its streak of bank holidays, labour day on the 1st of May, VE Day on the 8h of May, even though France at best came in a slight second, Whit Monday, and Ascension Thursday.  We are looking to see if it is a worker’s year, or a year for the bosses.

Let me explain to the non French of you.  In France we have a concept that is a wonderful thing, called “le pont” or the bridge.  If a public holiday falls on a Thursday; we get the Friday off too, and the same for a Tuesday; we get the Monday off. If the holiday is on a Wednesday, you get the Wednesday off.  You can’t  win ’em all!

I’ve  just checked on the calendar, and this year it’s half and half.  The 1st and the 8th are on Saturdays, so tough!

Right, now that you know about the concept, you will realise that we look to the month of May as being a way to get a couple of long , and most importantly, paid, weekends.  The weather is usually good and gives us a foretaste of Summer.  Brilliant right?  It also helps “bridge” the gap between January and August, which can be very long otherwise.

Well in 2020 all bets were off.  We discovered a new concept that year. The concept of lockdown.  On the 17th of March, the country went into lockdown, which was basically house arrest, but you’re allowed out to buy groceries, to get one hour’s exercise a day, but that’s  it. Translated into reality the country pressed the pause button, and everyone was put on furlough, with 85% of net pay paid by the government, and the rest by the company.

House arrest isn’t a very positive term, so let’s  make it more positive.  At the Eve of Saint Patricks Day, my local supermarket stocked up on Guinness and put it on special offer!  Daddy was going to have some special Daddy time, and not have to worry about going into work the next day. My son had set up clandestine meetings with his new girlfriend, and despite our protests decided to go out and visit her.  Sex is a powerful driving force…  we said that it would be silly to pay a fine of 135€ just for that.  The following week she moved in with us and spent the whole of lockdown with us.  That brought a certain animation into our lives and despite the intensity of it all, it could have been a lot worse. 

It also afforded me time to rest. I mean proper rest.  A rest from everyday life.  Not like a holiday rest, but a rest never the less.  It made us realise how speical such a moment can be.  It allowed us time to be physically present with each other in a way that “normal life’ doesn’t afford us.  It allowed us to discover a new person. With faults, but also great qualities. The first being that she is a cheap drunk, which in our family who has had a great fondness for drink drinks for generations is really a blessing.  I’m  not saying that we are all alcoholics, despite our Irish roots, but we do partake and enjoy a drink drink. As opposed to a drink, which is left for total abstainers which are a curse on humaity. 

I discovered that my daughter has a fondness for making cakes, and not only just of making them, but is quite good at it.  This brings joy to my heart, as I too, have a fondness for cakes, especially eating them!

We lost track of time, and with hindsight, I realise what a luxury that is.  We all have our phones on constant alert, we all have things to do, we all like to consider ourselves busy, but there,  we were all on hold. Not just people like me but everyone.  Yes, I’m  talking about you, celebrities.  Those people on TV,   those people on our screens.  We saw them trying to prove how they were still relevant on various podcasts, and showing what they looked like without the glamour and  how like us they were, in their massive houses, with massive kitchens, and how in reality they look as shitty as we do on a morning after having had some drink drinks.   I think they burst the bubble and broke the illusion of magic that surrounds them. That’s  an other great thing about Covid.  It showed us the sameness of humanity.  People in my little council house were under the same restrictions as those in mansions. Money and fame couldn’t protect them.  Talk about a level playing field. 

It gave me time also to get back into film photography and my greatest achievement was to conquer my film funk.  I discovered what I had been doing wring and no longer make that mistake. 

Towards the end of that first month of lockdown, cracks were staring to appear, but we still managed to get along enough so as not to kill eachother before Covid would.

I came out of lockdown early in order to go back to work on the 20th of April. As you know I am a big lad, and my BMI is above a certain level which could have allowed me to remain on lockdown and not go back to work.  But as I said to my boss, I’m  not going to get any thinner by staying at home, and the idea of having somebody in “my” stores, not working the way I did was abhorrent.  At the time I was also the only person working in my stores that knew all the products etc…  I was therefore allowed back.

Restrictions were gradually lifted and we came out of our shelters with our masks on, and started to look forward to Summer.  A trip to the UK was definitely out of the question, and my little getaway to Hull, would be cancelled.  I negotiated well and got all my money back. I was one of the lucky ones.  By early July travel restrictions had been lifted and as I had some time off from work, I took my daughter to Paris for the Day.  I rediscovered the  capital after having beem away for 20 years.  I also got to spend some quality time with my daughter.  We had the chance to meet up as a wider family, so for the Fête Nationale, and met up with other membres of the French family to celebrate.  Thanks to Sean Tucker and his very educative videos, I had launched myself into the world of portrait photography and was fortunate to have some willing victims to be portraited…  We even celebrated the 60th birthday of a great friend too. It felt almost normal again. 

August saw me going back to Paris twice and loving the capital as much as ever.  I’ll be back!

Spetember seemed to be very normal, but mask wearing seemed to be coming back into fashion. This would not be your typical rentrée. Even in  the windband things were going to change as lockdown 2.0 came info force.  Lockdown 2.0 was an awful lot like what I lived through in April.  Everyday freedoms taken away, except I could still go to work, and al5hough regearsals, they had changed and we were spaced out in the rehearsal romsphyically I mean of course. No mushroomswere harmed in any way.  Come Novemeber concerts were cancelled and we discovered curfews, but only in certain counties.  But it was all just putting off the inevitable further lockdown. 

Christmas was relatively normal and we were allowed to go to the non essential shops again on the 15th of December.  The government installed a nationwide curfew, but would not enforce it for Christmas.  It was good to be together again as a family and celebrate a very special birth.  Don’t worry, I’m  not going to give my Christmas sermon about how God the Son, part of the Holy Trinity, allowed himself to experience a full humanity, and human fragility. Born not as King, despite being God.  Humanity, human fragility, and exceptional humility. 

New Year’s Eve technically was under curfew. My wife had decided to get the house looking ship shape for that evening’s meal.  That means that it is a wonderful opportunity to bugger off and not be there to annoy her by just existing and breathing. 

Last Year I had buggered off to Nantes and spent the afternoon and early evening taking photos of the Hangar  à Bananes, so this year decided to do something else. This might just be turning info a tradition…  possibly…

Over the two weeks of holidays, my sleep has gone haywire, and although I sleep enough hours it is a broken sleep. Today it would be different. I had decided to bugger off to the beach in Noirmoutier and would enjoy the sun coming up over the last day of this rather “particular” year. The alarm went off at 6am. You see how serious I was? My camera kit was in the car. I shut the car boot and my cup of tea fell off the car roof and broke. It was as if 2020 wanted to get the last laugh. Bitch! I still got off on time and the road took me past my factory. Thankfully I didn’t stop and kept going. I arrived at the supermarket in Noirmoutier at opening time, and decided to go and have a pee in the supermarket toilets.

I went into the toilets and discovered the light was broken. I wasn’t going to pee in the sink, which has been an option, albeit an emergency option in the past. Luckily I had my phone, and used the torch on that to light my way. I got my sandwich and went back to the car. Ate the sandwich, and headed off to my final destination. The rest as the say is history, and you will see the pictures at the end if this article.

So now you’re pretty much up to date. I have seen may Instagram stories being rather rude about 2020, and how shitty it was and how 2021 can only get better. But taking stock, 2020 was a good year. People got together against a common foe, people realised that life has more important lessons for than Facebook. People realised that there are so many more important things in life, like family, and freinds, and the importance of all these social interactions that have been withheld from us. I know now where my priorities lie, and how much I treasure them. Has it been easy? Not every day. But with vaccines coming out, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe i will even be able to get back and visit the UK despite Brexit. Maybe Brexit might even work. A free trade agreement is all that Britain ever wanted anyway. 2021 will undoubtedly have its own set of challenges but 2020 has shown us that we can get through things that might seem impossible. Let us hope so anyway!

Humber Street

In 1987, my father bought me my first SLR. Notice the D is missing. So, I did say SLR and not DSLR. It was a Praktica MTL3 and it is now retired (polite way of saying Kaput) and sitting on a shelf in my son’s room. It took film. And the first roll of film that I shot with it was down Humber Street

In 1987, Humber Street was the fruit market of Hull, and I’m not making an unpolitically correct joke about sensitive men looking to do sensitive things with other sensitive men. No. That would be wrong and very un-enlightened of me. No, they did that in other places dotted around the city.

I used to shoot my film, get it developed at a place on Newland Ave, where I got the camera, and the guy would present me with a contact sheet and critique my photos. For those of you who were born after this analogical age, a contact sheet is where you lay out the negatives on a sheet of photographic paper, and expose the paper, and develop it, and get a whole load of thumbnail images that you can look at and decide which were worth printing. Yes, just like the thumbnails you get on the gallery on your phone, except it might have taken a little longer…

There was one image that pleased me immensely of a cat sitting quietly on a box of fruit wondering what the hell I was up to. That was then.

Skip forward a few years, just a few mind you, because I’m not an old git yet. No sonny Jim, I’m just a git! The area came into it’s own in 2017 when Hull was declared City Of Culture. People were proud of their city again and there were whisperers whispering, “Come to ‘Ull, it’s not shite anymore!”

The ‘gentrification’ of the area started with bars, and even Art Galleries! Then of course came the Humber Street Sesh, showing some amazing local musical talent. This year’s Street Sesh was last night, so you’ve missed it!

At the bottom is the Minerva. Minerva is of course the wise old owl in Greek mythology. It is also a pub which always has such a special place in people’s hearts. They do good food and good beer, and good gin, so the wife was more than happy.

The two nights before these photos, I had met up with and old friend from my school days who was kind enough not to mention all the silly shit that I used to get up to in my youth. The next night was a school reunion with people I hadn’t seen since 1985 and 1988 for the lads. Tales were told that I will not repeat here including stories about a pogo stick, and how I once said “merde” to my French teacher and left the room throwing my French books into the bin on the way out. They told my French wife, “Well he always was a bit European….”

Well now, you’ve kept reading up to now so I suppose I should tell you about these photos. They were taken on the Sunday night when I needed some “me” time to deal with the overwhelming overload of nostalgia. I was out with the Canon 6D Mark II, and the 16-35mm lens. Hope you like them.

Did I go on for too long?

Walkabout in Nantes with the lads from Instagram – Part I

Now and again I do some colour photography, especially with the colours you get from the X100F. Everyone goes on about it, but they really are good. A guy on Instagram wanted to get some people together of various photographic levels, some who know little, some who know a lot, some who have loads of gear, and some who have very little. This was the first outing.

We wanted to get into Nantes during Golden Hour, but somebody had the rather silly idea of making it the “morning” Golden Hour. I, of course, was late. The meeting place was Place Royale, where Kate’s favourite fountain its. Emiliano Sala had just disappeared on his flight from Nantes to Cardiff, and people had made a kind of shrine to him.

They all had DSLR’s with lenses and tripods and the whole shebang. Guys together having a competition to see who had the biggest… Camera… What else were you thinking about???? I turned up with my Fujifilm X100F. Yes mine was the smallest (camera) but I’m fine with that, and I own it!!

But I digress. I usually do black and white conversions and seem to have the process slightly sussed out. The colour film simulations are just great on this camera and I get why people wax lyrical about them.

When I got the X100F I wanted to have a digital camera that was the equal of my film cameras. I wanted something that could open up to F2 and go up to F16. I wanted something that looked good and that got the job done. It’s basically a compact camera, with a fixed prime lens, and is sold as the street photography photographer’s camera, or the travel photography photographer’s camera. Of course it it great for this, and just slips in a bag. It’s light and such an understated chic. I love it! There you are. I love my camera.

But back to Nantes who is the real star in this series. In this first part you see us going from the Place Royale, going to bakery for breakfast and a coffee (I always seem to find a place to eat wherever I am…), heading towards the Tour de Bretagne, which is Nantes’ version of the Tour Montparnasse in Paris, going across Cours des 50 Otages, towards the Castle via rue de la Marne, and having a look at some the of the streets branching off, and ending up on the rue du Château.