The Contradictory Contradiction

I have a friend here who said that I am always contradicting myself and that it isn’t logical and how can I say two things at the same time, and I replied that the two things, although contradictory in appearance, are both as true.  That person is a production of French education with philosophy as the subject that all French teenagers go through to learn how to think the way the Education Nationale tells them to think, under the guise of learning all about freethinking and critical thinking.  I, however, am a lot less French despite what some people might like to think, and I will think any blooming way I desire, with or without contradictions.

I’m not talking about my mental state, for once, but photography.  I love both digital photography and analogic photography.  I am bewildered by modern technology and could be classed as a geek, and yet the experience of using old technology that is obsolete for some gets me all excited as a small child waiting for Father Christmas, but being told by their mother to go to bed, otherwise, he won’t come.  It didn’t stop me from waking up at the crack of dawn, and I think my parents might have regretted the decision to buy me a guitar for Christmas and hearing me playing at some ungodly hour of the morning.  As a 49, fat middle-aged gentleman, I can understand them, but my 6 or 7-year-old self didn’t and couldn’t imagine the disturbance that I had caused them.

Oh, how times change!  While I’m on the nostalgia train going to the “good” old days, I have vivid memories of a drawer at my grandparents’ house, where my mother was brought up, and in whose room I would be staying.  Inside this drawer, many “old” things just fascinated me.  It could be my grandfather’s old plumbing ruler or golf tees.  It could be anything but it was an entrance into another world for me.  My grandmother’s kitchen, because at that time, my Grandfather wouldn’t be in the kitchen, was a place where everything was from the 1930s and it all just fitted together.   There was the Anderson shelter, which had been turned into a proper pantry, was a relic from the Second World War where they would have sheltered from German bombs falling on the town and trying to stop my Great Uncle’s shipyards from operating correctly.  My Great Aunt would drive around in an ambulance taking care of casualties.  Amazing people from an amazing time. 

What does this have to do with photography?  Not a huge amount, but is that a problem?  Oh yes, it tells you about my fascination for the old and very new.  I have “a number” of cameras, the eldest being from the 1940s and the newest from 2021, with nearly every decade being represented in-between the two dates.

So I was going somewhere with all this.  Ah yes, lately I seem to be getting back into film again.  In the last but one article, you may have seen the photos from the Mamiya, which is a relatively modern camera being from the early ’80s.  Well, this time, I’m still using a camera from the 1980s, the Pentax ME Super.  For once, I wasn’t using Ilford HP5, which is my “go-to” film.  No, I decided to be different and get out of my comfort zone, and use a new film.  I say new film, I mean Rollei has been around for donkey’s years, but this was a “new to me” film.  May I introduce you to Rollei RPX 100.  I never use 100ASA film, but was turned by Fomapan 100, which you can see in the photos from the Hangar à Bananes.  A fine-grain film, especially when you compare it to the grain from HP even when shot at box speed, let alone 800ASA or even 1600ASA.

The film was developed in ILFOSIL 3, and I thought it was great.  I tried in town and country and was thrilled.  The thing that pleased me the most was that it kept flat, which means a lot to somebody who has ever tried to scan film. The last time I bought a film I played wild cards, and it was also a lot cheaper than HP5 which is a very convincing argument.  I still dream of Kodak Portra 160, but it is getting more and more scarce, and therefore more expensive.  A beginning of the month kind of film.  Oh look at that, my pay has just gone in…

So yesterday evening I was scanning a film my son had shot on a 1960s Kodak camera, and thinking about how he has changed since 2016 when I picked up my Fuji XT2, a slightly more modern mirrorless digital camera. I hadn’t used a modern camera in quite a while and it almost felt foreign to me, and yet familiar at the same time. My fingers seemed to find the controls without looking very far, and it felt very natural.  Maybe my love of digital and analogue isn’t that contradictory after all?

Now it’s time to show you the results of the Rollei RPX 100.  I liked it and am happy I bought more than one roll.  The camera, as I think I said earlier, was the Pentax ME Super.

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.

À la recherche du temps perdu…

At the moment I seem to be suffering from nostalgia. A longing for things past that I wish were present. Not in the sense of the good old days in the way certain of my countrymen seem to feel Brexit will bring. It is of course impossible to bring back the past. And in some respects I’m very happy about that. Those of us who have been through puberty will be quite thankful not to have to repeat the experience.

I’m talking about the nostalgia where the mind wanders. Where the mind meanders through the memories that are stored there. Some, quite rightly too, are suppressed, and not to be delivered on a plate to some head shrinker. Others rock us like babies in our cribs. Days where things seemed to be different and before we made those decisions, wise or not, that made who we are today. And those decisions that were made for us by others, and that we wished had been made differently.

My mind is in the past. That past can be yesterday where I was very grateful to have the warm air from the car heater hitting my face, or it could be my very origins, where a 16 year old girl was forced by her elder brothers and sisters to abandon her child and give him up for adoption.

Smells can trigger these memories that seem to jump back at us and surprise us. The smell of ink for fountain pens, bees wax, and incense, that take me back to boarding school. Or the smell of lasagna that takes me right back to sitting in front of the TV when I was a teenager, avoiding tensions with my parents. The smell of bitter beer that accompanied those first visits to pubs. The woff of cigarette smoke that reminds me why I gave up smoking. The smell of ground coffee and hot pains au chocolats which signalled breakfast on a Sunday. The smell of military clothing. I’m sure mud has a smell. The smell of cordite and gun oil when out on the ranges. The smell of nappies from when I would change my son. The smell of good pooh and bad pooh. Yes, it does exist. The smell of wood when I worked on machines making door frames, to the smell of metal. Yes, metal does have a smell. I work in a store in the factory where I stock hinges, screws, etc

Taste can work in the same way. If you’ve read any of the other articles, you will have heard about my weakness for cheesecake. But I was just trying to recapture a dessert that my mum used to make and would sometimes disappear from the freezer. If anyone says anything I will deny everything and blame it on my imaginary friend…

But I think the moment that brought it on this time was when my old German teacher, known to everyone as Slick Rick, and even to this day remains particularly slick, sent me a section of an old school photo that I appear on. I was 16. About to sit my GCSE’s. And thought that I could still do what my mum wanted me to. I didn’t of course know what she wanted. To be honest, neither did I. I had an idea, but it wasn’t set in stone yet.

A right motley crew, and it seems so long ago…

At 16 I would never have imagined the life that I have now. I now live in France but at the time saw myself living in Germany. My German was better than French thanks to this brilliant teacher who managed to install a rare passion for the language. At the age of 18 my German was practically fluent and I felt so much at ease. But time has a strange way of sending you down another path. Some call it destiny, some karma, some a vocation. I have no idea. But here I am in 2019 transported back to 1988.

Yup, nostalgia gets me everytime and I wonder where that lost time went.