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.

CYSO City Youth Symphony Orchestra (Hull)

Right, this post might be a little introspective and even border on the nostalgic.  Mother, you have been warned, read on at your own peril. 

This week has been a good one.  In fact, it’s been a really good one.  Last weekend I was on holiday and it seems to have been nothing less than a Godsend!  For those of you who know nothing of me outside photography, you will now learn that I work in a factory in France that makes doors.  Yes, I work in a French Doors factory, even if that corny gag might get me shot at dawn.  Every Summer we would get four weeks holiday during August.  The whole factory just shut down for the month.  For those of you who have just got over the initial shock from that statement I will continue.  We’ll pick the others up later on.  We shut down for the month of August as do our clients, and the majority of country. Now we only get three weeks. Ah well… August is probably one of the best times to visit Paris.  They’re all on holiday and visiting their families in the provinces or following the latest holiday trend darling! 

That was the status quo and we all know it and it was good.  But, little did we know, Covid was just around the corner getting ready to bitch slap us all.  As a result of the first lockdown, the management thought, well, we need to work the first week of August “to be there for our clients” and the remaining week would be taken at a later date.  That later date was last week, for the week of the Ascension.  For those of you who aren’t Catholic or even Christian, the Ascension is when Jesus went back to heaven and said “I’ll be back,” but not “Hasta la vista Baby.”  That was somebody else.

Anyway, back to the subject in hand.  I have had my week’s holiday and it was very lovely.  Just what I needed.  This last week has been just as good.  The time at work has flown by, and yes I’m up to date on everything.  What has changed?  I have started walking my son’s dog.  1, because I can.  2.  Because I think she enjoys it, and seeing her getting all excited when she sees me putting on my shoes is a real ego boost.  We get into the car and I drive off to our local forest where we walk and take in Mother Nature.  Well kind of, because it’s a managed forest and the trees were planted mostly by man, but who cares, it gets me outside.  The dog is called Molly, and she’s a cross between a Spaniel and a Teckel, which means she loves sniffing everything and following trails. 

I used to identify uniquely as a “cat person” and today I am deciding to do my “coming out” as bi-petual.  I like both cats and dogs.  Yes another horrifying shock for my poor parents.  I’m really getting into this dog walking thing.  We have a few circuits that we enjoy.  The Forêt de Grasla, the Mare aux Canards, which, when I first heard my daughter talking about going first sounded like to my deaf ears Maracena, which I always thought was in Brazil, and behind the village in the vines.

The number of paces that I do a day has gone up from 7000 to a peak of 16000 yesterday.  Could this be a sneaky way of that dog telling me that I’m fat, that I shouldn’t eat as much, that I should give her some of my food instead, and move my booty?  Who cares?  It seems to be doing me good!

Where was I?  Ah yes.  Those of you who have eagle eyes, and who read the titles of my articles will be wondering what do France, dogs, holidays, and fat people have to do with a Youth Orchestra, or Hull even?  And you’d be right.  You might argue that the title was nothing more than pure click bait, and you will want to assassinate me on Twitter.  I’m not on Twitter, so unlucky you! 

So music…  Some of you who only know me with a camera in my hand and do not read all my posts, might not know that I lead a double life.  I dabble a bit in music.  Another contender for Understatement of the Year 2021.  I’ll try and go through as quickly as I can prepare the terrain for the main bit of this article and not the waffle at the beginning and my mind wandering and wondering.

When I was 6 years old I saw the guards parading on Horseguards Parade in London, and declared that one day I would do that.  I was in awe of the music, and I was hooked.  I started learning the horn at boarding school, and when boarding school was no longer the best place for me, I came home to Hull (the last word in the title).  You see, I’m getting there…

Well just a couple of days ago I was added to a Facebook Group by an old teacher of mine.  The Group is called “City of Hull Youth Symphony Orchestra (CYSO) Memories” which is for those of us fortunate enough to have played in the orchestra or one the City Youth Ensembles, and who went through the musical education system in Hull.  You end up seeing some familiar names spring up as do the flowers in the hedgerows on the way to work.  Recollections of concerts, and above all the hard work that went into them.  The work that non-musicians don’t get too see.  People talking about the well known character, GHS.  Geoffrey Heald Smith who managed to achieve legend status in many ways, not all good, but for music he was amazing.  He had this passion for music that he was able to “distil” in us.  The individual instrument teachers would come into your school and give you lesson whilst you were at school.   I have heard him described as a bully, an amazing musician, a legend, a source of fear, a drunk, a teacher, a conductor, an inspiration, a man of his time.  Take your pick, he was all of the above and more, and had a great impact on a whole generation of musicians in my home city.  He made an orchestra out of the teachers and would visit the schools to play for the pupils and try and get us interested in music.  These were like a breath of fresh air for me, but depending on his sobriety of lack thereof, things could be “difficult”.

When I was 11 I was in a new school in Hull after three years of boarding school.  My main preoccupations were, avoiding getting my head kicked in, avoiding being bullied, being accepted, and living through the general shitstorm that was going on around me.  1984.  Crap year for the miners, but not just the miners.  I was fed up of everything and let’s say that my early tutorage from my new horn teacher wasn’t going the way I wanted it to go.  Luckily, that changed.  I was about to give up, and my mother was distraught.  She called in GHS to speak some sense into me and to convince me to carry on.  He came to the school and we sat down and talked.  I seem to remember him telling me that sure, I could give up, and another child would take my instrument and my place, or I could continue and be part of something bigger than myself. Those 15 minutes changed my life, and I will be forever grateful to the man.

I would continue with my teacher, and I would like to thank Mr Oglesby for his patience, and his dedication to turning me into a horn player.  I joined the system and as I learnt my craft, I moved from training orchestra, to junior orchestra, and the junior wind band.   I passed my Grade V and became eligible to try and audition for the City Youth Orchestra.  It was a very good school for me as a musician and helped install a discipline that I carry with me to this day.  Practice, practice, practice.  No passengers allowed, somebody can always take your place.  Of course, egos were made and broken.  I remember one concert where the principal trumpet was replaced by a pro, as he hadn’t turned up for enough rehearsals.  It was no nonsense, and you learned not to talk or fidget during rehearsals.  The City youth Concerts took place in the City Hall, which was one of those Concert halls from the beginning of the century, built in 1909, and as a child was very awe-inspiring.  It was massive to me, and I remember being told to sell tickets for each concert, as we had to fill the place. It has a capacity of 1200 seats!

During my days in the orchestra, symphony orchestra, which became the concert orchestra, the symphonic wind band, and the Swing band, in the late 80’s I would be in the music centre about 5 days a week, be it for Aural and music theory training, orchestra or ensemble rehearsals.  There was so much talent in those orchestras that as an unsure and awkward teenager trying to deal with my childhood, I felt so inadequate.  There were people that would go on to become professional teachers, musicians, orchestrators, who all just seemed to ooze talent.  I was probably that weird kid who played the horn, that meant well, but was on the periphery.  Sure, I had mates that I would talk with but was by no means as talented as some. They are, however, whom I think of when I think about my musical youth.

I remember concerts, tours, getting up to no good in Switzerland but managing to be OK despite my turbulent youth.  There were rites of passage, which contributed to make me the musician I am today.  I no longer live in Hull, as all the French photography may indicate, and I now live over here in France and have done since 1994.  That’ll teach me!  I remember my first rehearsals in the local orchestra in Noisy Le Sec, and the professional horn players who would teach us and guide us, said they knew that I was English in the way that I approached music.  I did it without an ego, and knew my role in the section and was a section member and not and frustrated soloist.  I knew that I was there to serve the music, and not for the music to serve me.  I was also a lot more disciplined that my French counterparts, who are always talking, fidgeting etc, but are not as bad as the Italians are.  Even my present musical director seems to see me as the pillar on which the horn section can rely on.  I’m still not a fan of being principal horn and generally play second horn.  My favourite position will always be 4th horn which is the bass of the section, the motor, and gives a base on which to carry the other three.

So…. Off to Paris tomorrow with my son for an epic Ian and Killian day. I might even take a camera along and get some photos.

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?

Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire

You might just have noticed that I didn’t publish anything last Wednesday. And even if you didn’t not notice, I still didn’t publish anything last Wednesday. I had just had some time off work and had just got back from an amazing visit to Hull to meet up with some old friends that I was at school with, and hadn’t seen since school. The next couple of articles will feature photos from that visit.

Soooooo… We travelled up from the Vendée, to catch the ferry at Zeebrugge, in Belgium. We usually set off quite early but this time it was a bit silly kind of early. No it wasn’t, it was the downright obscene kind of early! That kind of early that you only do when it’s summer and really hot during the day, and you want to drive at least a couple of hundred kilometres without passing out from the heat.

Needless to say, we were “on time.” Not the first in the queue, but not far off. Anyway, the sail over was really good. The food and drink were great and we actually got a good night’s sleep. So fresh eyed and bushy tailed as only fresh eyed and bushy tailed little bunnies can be, we arrived in Hull. Yes Hull is what I consider as home… You can take the boy out of Hull, but not the Hull out of the boy. I still get emotional when I listen to the Housemartins. Which is why, as soon as we got off the boat and had to wait for the hotel room, we went off to Beverley.

There were two places I wanted to visit. The Minster and St Mary’s Church. I’m not forcing religion down your throats, but as I said in the article about the St Nicolas Basilica in Nantes, these buildings were designed by men in which to connect with God, and everything in them leads man to God. Even if you’re not a believer, you can tell that this is no ordinary building. I’m always amazed by the architecture and how the builders managed to construct such edifices and what technology the must have used.

I love the intricacy in the stone work, or in the wood carvings, or the paint on the organ pipes, but what really moves me are the memorials to the dead of the World Wars, and the Colours (battle honours) of the regiments that no longer exist but had men that fought and died together as brothers. In some of these photos you can what remains of these “flags” and how it is so important not to forget those that went before us.