La Rentrée 2021

My Dear Reader, welcome to yet another article where I will try to find something interesting or witty to tell you.  I have neglected you over August, but as most French people do, I closed shop and was on holiday.  Since Covid and the world going base over apex, my company has decided that we only need three weeks’ holiday in August compared to the more traditional four weeks.  I am about to sing the praises of my wife, so for those of you who hate the luvvy-duvvy side of things, turn away now.  I take it you have all turned away.  

For the first ten days of my holidays, I was camping in my living room. My wife and I literally carried our bed downstairs and set up camp.  That was the less agreeable part of those first ten days.  However, my wife had decided to decorate our bedroom and change all the furniture and replace it with nice new furniture from the infamous Swedish flat-pack place that we all know.  I have a love-hate relationship with flat packs.  Firstly, they’re heavy and hardly fit into the car without all the seats down and your wife in the back of the car telling you how to drive, you bloody moron!  Secondly, they take up an awful amount of space in the garage whilst your wife gets to grips with decorating the room.  Painting the ceiling, putting up wallpaper you agreed to ages ago because it’s easier and you love avoiding conflict.  You don’t sleep well because everything feels strange in the living room and it’s hot too.  Thirdly, they have to be taken upstairs to be put together and there’s always something missing, and you know it’s going to be your fault, you useless fool!  

Anyway, with the help of friends, my son, and a mad screaming bitch, sorry, wife, we now have a haven of peace.  We not only have a haven of peace, but fitted wardrobes that took three days to put together, but look great, and I have a cabinet for all my photography gear and, most importantly, a desk.  

She is a champion, and let me assure you all, she has become human again!  It has been a life-changer.  

During the pre-let’s get this done otherwise I’ll go mad, clear out, we found some films that needed to be developed.  You do not know what might lurk on those reels of film, but you tell yourself that you must have taken them, so it shouldn’t be too bad.  I took in 9 rolls of film in.  I was told by the amiable lady that if any of them hadn’t been exposed that there would be no charge for the development.   Seems fair.

I returned to get the films and the contact sheets.  That still sweet lady told me I would be in for a surprise!  She was right.  I looked through the sheets of paper and saw images of my son, who was still a toddler, and having baths, and being dried by his mother and his godmother.  It took me right back to the end of the last century!  My beard was in colour in those days!

Encouraged by all this photographic success, I went out and took even more photos.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Instagram you will have seen the stories and saw the cameras for the day: the Mamiya C220, and the Pentax ME Super, which were both gifts from a former teacher, and now a friend of mine!  Merci Mr McM!  

I do like taking photos and using cameras.  There’s something I don’t think you knew!!  It was good to be back out.  I am now double jabbed. Thank you to that lovely lady at the chemists who reassured me and said that I wasn’t the only guy in the world that has a phobia of injections.  Not only am I double jabbed, but I also have my Covid Passport, so I can go to the pub again without having part of my brain scraped out by a nurse with a long plastic thingy!  I have rejoined the general population.  

If you’re wondering what the French title of this article is doing there, let me explain.  Quickly though, I’m already at 750 words here.  The Rentrée is the re-entry into normal daily life after the summer holidays where people just weren’t there.  The children go back to school.  Those of use in employment, go back to that employment.  Our extracurricular activities start again.  Last night was my first wind band rehearsal in over a year (thank you, COVID), and it feels as if some relative normality has come back into my life.  

Back to the photos.  I shot the square photos on the Mamiya C220, using Ilford HP5+ film shot at box speed, developed in Ilfosol 3, and I took the other photos on the Pentax ME Super, using Fomapan 100 film developed in the same chemistry.  Fine grain with the Fomapan and not something I’m used to, but a change is good, right? Oh, and I took them at the Hangar à Bananes, and HAB Gallerie in Nantes.

Art in Nantes

This time last week I was looking forward to getting  out with my camera (I’ll let you guess which one) and getting me some art!  The sun was guaranteed, and temperatures were on the up.  I would get my art and go to the pub for a pint or two with friends.  

On the Gram I had seen quite a few photos taken in the Castle Courtyard showing art inspired by French decolonialisation, and the Atlantic Slave Trade, by the Benin artiste Romuald Hazoumé. The Expo is open to the public until the 14th November 2021 in the Castle.  Romual Hazoumé, born in 1962 in Benin, creates sculptures using plastic jerry cans, giving a subtle critique of political figures and political systems in modern Africa.

Hazoumé recycles matter, junk, and objects that have served their purpose, which he uses in the original state, or deformed to represent his vision of society, events, or planet-wide concerns.  The artist revisits History, conserving a present link to the news.  His research is shown in monumental and hard-hitting works of art, showing his militantism against all forms of slavery, corruption, traffic, that are translated into witness of what is happening right now in the world.

The question of migrationary fluxes and their consequences, questions the western world, and the African continent, and asks further questions about egalitarian exchange, has become central to his more recent works.

I therefore think about slavery and our role in it:  the original African slave trade, followed by the Arab slave tribe, followed by the European slave trade, and eventual abolition, in Europe and our Colonies, and taken up again in Africa with migrations due to war and economics.  We hear all kinds of tales about Africans being sold to Libyans so the migrants “can repay their debt,” and then hope for a better life if they survive the crossing of the Mediterranean.  Some don’t make it and are washed up tragically on our shores.  The image of the three-year-old boy who washed up dead, Alan Kurdi, near Bodrum broke all our hearts and brought the war in Syria to the headlines, and especially the human cost of this war.   I’m not saying that the migrant crisis is the same as the slave trade, but there are parallels. 

I was always aware of the salve trade, having been brought up in Hull, where our local MP, William Wilberforce, was responsible for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire with the Slave trade Act in 1807.  This always gave me a real sense of pride of being from Hull!  France was to wait until 1815, with the decree coming into force in 1826.  We would have to wait until 1848 for emancipation in the French colonies. 

The Act created fines for ship captains who continued with the trade. These fines could be up to £100 per enslaved person found on a ship. Captains would sometimes dump captives overboard when they saw Navy ships coming in order to avoid these fines. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, established the West Africa Squadron in 1808 to patrol the coast of West Africa, and between 1808 and 1860 they seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. The Royal Navy declared that ships transporting slaves would be treated the same as pirates. Action was also taken against African kingdoms which refused to sign treaties to outlaw the trade, such as “the usurping King of Lagos”, who was deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

In the 1860s, David Livingstone’s reports of atrocities within the Arab slave trade in East Africa stirred up the interest of the British public, reviving the flagging abolitionist movement. The Royal Navy throughout the 1870s attempted to suppress “this abominable Eastern trade”, at Zanzibar in particular. In 1890 Britain handed control of the strategically important island of Heligoland in the North Sea to Germany in return for control of Zanzibar, in part to help enforce the ban on slave trading.

How sad they would be to see the world today!  The Artists shown in the Expo, created works to show modern slavery, one of the works being based on the story of Alan Kurdi, which is a dice, where people put their faith in their God, and try and make it to a better life in Europe, seen as this Eldorado where they will be free.  Sometimes I think the only difference between them and my own story is that I was born in a different country.  We may worship God in different ways, but when it comes down to it, we all have the same aspirations, a better life for our children, to be able to feed, clothe, and give them a roof over their heads. 

That was a pretty intense introduction and not as comical as some of my other articles, but this is a serious matter, I’ll get less serious in the next paragraph.  We cannot but feel something deep inside us whilst contemplating these works of art.  Put yourself in the position of a Syrian parent and it just comes home to you… 

I will try and get a little less heavy, and continue the story of my day.  I left the castle  and walked up towards the Cathedral, thinking that the Psalter’s Garden would be a lovely place to have a modest picnic, and reflect on what I had just seen.  I didn’t have anything to eat, but knew where I could change that.  There is a lovely bakery that makes really amazing sandwiches.  Trigger warning.  I am about to tell a Dad joke.  Why do you never go hungry in the desert?  Because of all the sand which is there…  You know what?  I’m not even sorry.  So I went back to the Garden, with food this time, which helps a picnic be a picnic.  I found a bench, parked my backside on it.  So relieved that it didn’t make any noise as I sat down.  This garden is one of the favourite places of a friend of mine who has consented to be a guest writer on my blog.  As I ate I transferred the photos from my camera onto my phone so I could create a story of the day for the Gram, which would go on to be a series of reels (short videos for Instagram). 

I had eaten, thrown my trash into the bin, and headed off to get on a bus.  Yes, me, on a bus.  For the last 20 years, and country living, public transport has become a rare occurrence.  You know how satisfying a pint of beer that somebody bought for you is?  Or how sweet the pint offered by the pub landlord?  I think you do.  It is always sweeter and finer and so satisfying.  Well, somebody  in the city council here in Nantes had the brilliant idea of making public transport free on a weekend. What a wonderful idea!  Now public transport isn’t beer, which I’m sure you, Dear reader, are well aware of, but there was a certain satisfaction of being able to get on a bus and not have to use a ticket, and knowing that a ticket inspector would not inspect the ticket that you didn’t use.  In my life I have learnt to savour these small mercies offered to us.

I was enjoying the ride so much that I actually missed my stop where I had to change busses.  Normally this would send my anxiety into overdrive, but not today.  I just got on the bus going the other way, and went back two stops.  Changed busses, and arrived at the terminus, which was the Hangar a Bananes, where the big massive crane is, that you might have seen in some of my photos.  As part of the Voyage à Nantes in 2011, the whole place has been given a new lease of life, and in the afternoon and early evening, it’s a great spot.  You might want to avoid it at around 2am to 3am, as it can get a little worrisome.  I, however, was there from about 2pm to 3pm, so unless a rather rotund gentleman wearing a Panama hat, and with a camera around his neck, scares you, then you’re fine!

You will however see the Anneaux de Buren, or the Buren Rings standing to attention in a long line that follows the river.  Do not worry either, about, one ring ruling them all, stray Wizards telling you that you will not pass, or small people with very hairy feet trying to find a place to eat breakfasts…  There will be people enjoying a drink and a bit to eat, or going to the Canteen for lunch or dinner, and if you further enough down you might be able to walk on the moon, visit the very depths of the ocean, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to spot an elephant!

I was aiming for the HAB Gallerie, which is the Hangar à Bananes Gallerie.  The clue is in the name.  I wanted to go to see the exhibition with works by Gilles Barbier.  Again, I had seen photos on the Gram, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  It, too, was free, so why not.  I’m not saying I had spent the day consuming art, but possibly, kind of.  I’m not quite sure.

For the first time, the artist was showing his paintings of the “Pages du Dictionnaire” lifted from the Petit Larousse.  Which is not the same as the Petitblond, but can be equally satisfying.  Did you see that little play on words about beer there?  You might have to speak French to get, so to all non Frenchie people, I apologise.  I thought it was funny, and on a slightly higher level than the desert joke.  Apparently, to get the most out of this blog you have to be a photo geek, into photography, and ever so slightly Francophile.  If that is not you, then I hope you can find something that pleases you.  I’m working with what I’ve got people!

So where was I?  Yes, looking at a slightly surrealist exhibition, including huge paintings of the insides of a dictionary, cum encyclopedia, which for those born this century, is what old people used before Google!  Shit I feel old all of a sudden!  So these massive paintings of the 1966 edition, which are very detailed and as interesting to read as to contemplate.  It’s an ongoing project and he’s got to P.  As any one would after drinking all those Rousse beers!  Hey, I found that funny!

Dear Reader, I am obviously a complete idiot, and because of my idiocy, you are about to get a different ending to this article as I didn’t press save, even though I was convinced that I had. I had even scheduled this article to come out at a certain time and end everything. Jesus saves, and so should I!

I think it was something along the lines of talking about the enigma that is the art of Gilles Barbier. It’s slowly coming back to me so you’ll get the main points. In the early 2000’s a company put out an advert saying that they would pay an obscene amount of money to the person that would get their logo tattooed on their forehead. The deed was done, and I was reminded of that when seeing one of Gille’s very realistic sculptures. It was as if the person had gone full hog and got tattoos of so many logos. The sculpture is of an old lady lying naked on a chaise long, covered in various logos. It was one of the most disturbing things I seen all day, and at the same time so fascinating. It really makes you think about the permanence of a tattoo, and makes you wonder what on earth people were thinking! It was like the ultimate corporate sell out. There were more sculptures of heads spewing forth diatribes, others of melted cheeses with philosophical quotes, and to finish, a sculpture made out of femurs and human hip bones. Talk about stripping ideas down to their very core.

If the purpose of Art is to make us question ourselves, or at least mark us in some small way, or even just not to allow us to pass by with indifference, then the Art in Nantes had fulfilled its role admirably. I’m really looking forward to the Voyage à Nantes 2021 and seeing what they have prepared for us! Nantes isn’t a perfect place, but they are good with culture, and free public transport on a weekend! Not sure about free beer though. They might not be ready for that even though quite a few Nantais might…

Right just to finish, as you might have guessed, the camera for the outing was the X100F. Last week I talked about the website FUJI X Weekly, and it’s author Ritchie Roesch, and I decided to try one of the recipes. Kodachrome, just the mere mention of it will make older photographers just get really nostalgic. Well the young Mr Roesch decided to take on a trip to Nostalgieville, and I thought I would give it a go. Most of you know that I am more into black and white photography than colour, but the blues of the sky, and the colours all around me, and the strong sunlight made me want to give it a try. Soooo, I did. I found the recipe to be more akin to Portra 160 and very slightly overexposed, just the way I would do if I were using the film. But I loved the results and will be using it more often during this summer period.

Thank you for humouring me and my quickly rewritten end to this article. See you next week, and we’ll see what I come up with!

 

 

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.