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!!

Sea Mist

Right, I’m going to be completely honest with you Dear Reader, and tell you that the next few articles will be about my Summer (sorry 12 days in Summer) whilst in the UK. No novels, just photos. I might tell you a little about the context of the photos, how they happened, and under which circumstances they happened. So basically it’s my holiday snaps and not creative writing. Just thought it fair to warn you in case. You never know.

I mean, I say holiday snaps, but I have tried to keep a certain standard and make the photos look good! I wouldn’t dare do otherwise!

So, let’s get some context. The last time I was in Alnmouth I didn’t have my Canon 6D Mark II with me and I didn’t have my 16-35mm lens. As you might know by now, this is my other favourite set-up and rivals the Fujifilm X100F. Yes, I like to go a little wider when I can!

Now the following conditions were something that I had never seen before here but really knocked me for six. It was suddenly that the beach disappeared. This fog just came from the sea and ate up the entire village, like me, with a piece of cake. Gobbled it up as if it were the last cake on the plate. The whole place became quite eerie and when on the beach, I couldn’t even see the sea. I could only just make out some people sitting on the beach being very English and bloody-minded. Well, we got here. It’s foggy, but we’re still going to have a good time on the beach. It was almost French… Almost…

It was my first morning in the village and I had slipped out saying that I was off to take some photos. I was, of course, but said nothing about going to Scott’s of Alnmouth, which is a rather gorgeous deli, and coffee shop. It used to be the village Grocers, and I love what they’ve done to the place. It looks magnificent, and I also follow the owner on Instagram and was so happy to get there after so much time. I was welcomed as an old friend which always makes me feel special. The coffee was the best coffee that I had ever had in the UK, which is saying something. British people are good at tea. The French are excellent at coffee. The French have traumatised me with what they think of as a cup of tea. Warm tepid water with not enough tea, no milk, and a crappy little biscuit to say sorry. British coffee inspires the same disgust in me. Killian and I, famously, once tried Costa coffee, and said never again! And when I say never, I really mean never. However Scotts of Alnmouth destroyed the myth that the Brits know nothing about coffee, and I was very agreeably surprised. The generous slice of Tiffin that I had with it had nothing to do with my state of happiness. Well, it did, of course, but the coffee was superb!

Parisian Nights.  Part II.  Montparnasse et Montmartre.

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.

My friend Hervé

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…

September

Hello Dear Reader.  I’m not talking about the song by Earth Wind and Fire, but the month.  At least it’s being an ear worm and I can hear you hear you singing it in your heads.  I’m talking about September, the month, the return.  We have accomplished our re-entry into our everyday lives, and the routine that was missing in August is back.  The days are slightly cooler and have become more agreeable.  Instead of 33°C, we are back down to 23°C.  The nights are slightly cooler too and we no longer need our fans on all night like we did in August. When it’s hot, some people are in their element.  I, however, am not one of those people.  When you’re cold, you can always put a jumper on, and have a cup of tea and go inside.  But as contradictory as I am, as one friend recently pointed out to me, I do enjoy sitting outside on a Summer’s eve having a beer or three…

I love the holidays that August is famous for, but the obligation to enjoy yourself every day during these days of relative freedom is a pain in the arse. I don’t want to be melancholic, but this forced enjoyment of a good time is too much for me.  Club Med would be a nightmare!  I like my routine back.  Back at work and happy to be there.  We still have our weekends and can still enjoy them.  The jumpers are still in storage, but you hear the word “mi-saison” as the announcer of a more bearable climate.  The French news has gone the rentrée clips to showing how our Dear President has not been as good at selling submarines as other countries that can offer different and possibly more desirable options…  The Voyages à Nantes is over, and we will look for those works of art that have become permanent.  You can see grapes in the supermarkets, and other more autumnal products.  Soon we’ll be talking about the wine harvest…  In the UK it will be words like “chilly” making their return to everyday usage.  The merits of a “nice cup of tea” which will warm you up will become an object of conversation once more.  Biscuits or cake?

My daughter was born in September and this week is her birthday.  She will be twelve going on thirty.  I think she should run for President, as she seems to know everything already.  Let her fix the country.  If people go on strike, she could always sulk in her room and go on her phone…  That’ll show them!  At least she takes the dog out for walks around the village.  As any doting gather, I think she’s brilliant and can be hilarious and despite hating and eye rolling at my dad jokes, she still seems to enjoy them.  She can also turn into a she-devil at any instant and I’m trying to work out whether this is traumatic for me or just making life a little more interesting than it once was.

Molly, I think I’ve introduced her to you, is now a deb at the grand old age of 10, and has made her grand entrance in the pub, where I can be found from time to time, enjoying a pint of overpriced Guinness.  Me, that is, not the dog.  That dog of ours is one clean living dog, or a total abstainer!  She attended a Saturday night at the pub, and was noticed and loved by everyone.  She received strokes galore, was made a fuss of, and even had a couple of chips as a treat from the chip shop down the road.  My major concern was that I would lose her, but my hand stayed firmly on the lead, and the only trouble was her getting tangled in chairs.  I was amazed by the reaction to her, and she might be allowed to come out with me more often.  She’ll keep her canine eye on me, making sure I don’t get into any trouble. It’s amazing how that mutt has worked her way into my heart and is a real doggie dog, and always seems happy to see me.  To be honest, she’s happy to see everyone, but she knows how to make you feel special, in a way that only a dog can.  Unfortunately she can, with time, and dirt on her, become a little stinky-poohs, and on Tuesday I came home and gave her her cuddle, discovered a dog that had been to doggie hairdressers and was now as soft as you wish, trimmed up, and smelling lovely.  Maybe not as pleasant as finding a banknote hidden away in your wallet, but not half bad anyway!

This is supposed to be a photography blog, or at least from time to time, so let me tell about where I am on the photographic plain.  I’m still there.  Last weekend was the Journées du Patrimoine.  I could have gone into Nantes with my camera, and visit all those places not usually open to the public and get some more “exclusive” photos, but went to Clisson instead.  I never got there.  I had the Mamiya and a couple of rolls of film with me.  Exploring some of the local villages near where I live, I even managed to go to the Château de la Preuille, a local castle that has been a favourite of mine since arriving in St Hilaire in 2001.  With Medium format film, you get 12 images with each film when shooting with the Mamiya C220, and the amount of detail that is captured on the negative is amazing.  The project was to take pictures locally and see what I could get, and the restriction of 24 shots was interesting too.  It obliges you to make that little extra effort when composing your images, as you don’t want to waste that special film.  If this article has photos, then it means that I have developed my film before Friday at 17h.  Otherwise, they’ll have to be added later on. UPDATE: It appears that you will have to wait for the photos of Château de la Preuille but they will be put on here. For the moment, you get a bit of Saint Hilaire.

I shall continue to revel in this comparatively cooler weather, with the sunshine, and not much rain forecast for the next ten days.  I look forward to seeing you in my next article.  Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, then be careful!