Back in Paris

I’m happy to tell you that I am feeling better than I was when I wrote my last article. Mentally I seem to be on waves and at least now I know things will get better. At the moment I seem to be OK. Right now we’ve got that said we can go on. In another article I had talked about photos that I had wanted to share with you all.

As you can read in previous articles, my first visit with Kate to Paris was based on where “she” wanted to go, and this visit was to be no different. Kate had decided on the Louvre and Eiffel Tower for our first visit. This time it was going to be Les Invalides and the Champs Elysées.

During this last visit to Paris I was with Kate and we started off checking out Les Invalides to make sure that Napoleon was still dead and wasn’t up to ruining Europe. He is still dead, but maybe over compensating with his huge tomb. Maybe he was the Petit Caporal after all. Maybe…. Anyway, our modern day politicians are managing to mess everything perfectly well by themselves. Did you see how I got political and edgy without mentioning any names there? As I told my father the other day, it’s not a good day if you can’t make a dig at the French or make a small child cry.

So back to Paris, hoping to avoid the train adventure from the visit with Jean Guillaume. It was a lovely day and we were ready to have some serious fun. Foot wear and walking stick in hand, we were ready. We arrived and of course headed off to Marks and Spencers to get an early lunch. Oh shock and horror, they hadn’t been delivered with sandwiches. I was devastated. I wanted a bite of my childhood again. But it wasn’t to be. We got a couple of salads and some fruit and headed off to the little park where I had eaten with Jean Guillaume.

Then we had to revisit the Metro. I still love the metro for it’s different stations and all the tiling. It just has a little magic of its own. I know that with the crowds of Parisians, police, delinquents, junkies begging for money etc, we might have a tendency to forget it. I think as I am no longer a regular user that I am no longer blinded to all that. And don’t forget, it was still August where all the Parisians bugger off on holiday and leave their town to us tourists.

Anyway back to the visit. At Les Invalides we were greeted by the Gendarmerie Nationale who wanted to check our bags and make sure that weren’t going to do anything naughty. We were fine and headed off to buy our tickets. The first display showed horses with various bits of armour and mannequins showing how dashing French Cavalry Officers used to be. Luckily for the British, our Cavalry was better and we actually got quite good at thrashing Frenchie and giving him a damned good whooping…

We saw huge amounts of swords, and I still don’t know why we don’t pronounce the “W.” But it does explain why we nicked the idea of the Busby from the French for our Guards in the Household division. Those swords could do a lot of damage.

We worked our way around and looked at various weapons that the French had and imagining the damage they could inflict on somebody. We saw the works of Vauban and his genius in building defences. We saw exhibits from the First World War in which my grandfather fought, and exhibits from World War Two, that despite what they might like to believe wasn’t won by the French even though they might have come a close second if we’re being gracious with them. We got on to Indochine where the French started giving up their colonial possession’s, including North Africa, but we don’t talk about that, and then on to the Cold War. Which technically we won, but should have been much more gracious in victory and maybe we wouldn’t be having the problems we actually have in Russia today.

Anyway… We managaed to find the exit and after passing through the gift shop buying here a couple of BD’s in the series that she is reading, about French kids during the Occupation. It was time to check on Old Boney!

The building that houses him is beautiful. Very French. Stylish, and the tombs are amazing. Some dedicated to Generals who gave their names to so many streets in France. Foch, Vauban, Turenne, de Lattre de Tassigny, Philippe Leclerc de Hautlecocque. Even the Capitaine Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle who wrote the French National Anthem. Ok, so they’re not all bad however French they may be…

It really was very inspiring, and I almost feel guilty that the British beat the French at Waterloo. Almost…. It is true that we the Prussians with us, and that Napoleon’s artillery was rendered useless by the mud. OMG, I’m turning into one of them. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelp Meeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Back onto the metro and up to the Place de l’Etoile. Kate wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe that we usually see on TV when the Gilets Jaunes weren’t very happy with the little Manu, and the police wanted something to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Mind you, it really is quite impressive. Kate wanted to visit the Champs Elysées, so visit it we would. I had decided to walk from one end to the other. It is supposed to be the most beautiful avenue in the world, and at Christmas time, when it is all lit up it really is very special. That day it was still pretty good though.

Kate was getting peckish and it was time for this photographer to have a coffee. The place we ended up was bright yellow and you might need some sunglasses if you go there. The Café Joyeux is an amazing place. Their staff are mentally handicaped, and managed by team leaders who guide them and help them have a meaningful job and career. The service was impeccable and everything felt so natural which is a fitting tribute to their professionalism. It really is a very “Joyeux” experience, and if you’re in Paris then please drop in and see them. Oh, and the coffee is amazing too. It’s a proper café and not just a social project. We have to power to change things.

We continued our trip down the Avenue and saw the original Guerlain Shop that was opened in 1914. Now the Parisians are just amazing at making things that are beautiful, and here it was particularly true, and everything smelt amazing.

For her upcoming birthday I had decided to buy my daughter some clothes on the Champs Elysées in H et M. Ok it’s not the most luxurious of brands but there was that little extra special feeling because of the location, and the trip was about Kate and not necessarily me. We came away with two dresses, some shoes, some hair stuff, and somewhat poorer, but it was her birthday after all…. And during a Daddy daughter day, stuff like that happens.

It was just lovely having time together and walking together. She was wearing Doc Martens boots with a bit of of a heel, but she managed to keep going. We would sit down and just breathe. I love that corner of Paris and always will do. We arrived at the Place de La Concord where the French decided to end the Royalty a little more brutally but guillotining them and it is amazing how beautiful a place it is now compared to the place of suffering and bloodshed all those many years ago.

We managed to get to WH Smiths before it shut to get a goodie bag with all kinds of sweets, pickle, and tea to take home. Kate fell asleep on the train home. Which isn’t surprising for a girl who had walked more than 22.000 paces in one day. Bless her cotton socks.

Jean Guillaume ce héro!

I am truly blessed. I have some very good friends that are wonderful people.  Jean Guillaume is one of those people.  He personifies kindness, gentleness and positivity, and an example for us all. No wonder he got to marry Stephanie who is just as wonderful!    You may remember in a previous article that I went to Paris with my daughter.   It was a great day out, but I of course had to put my daughter first.  So I did, but I did say that I would go back to do some photography on my own so I could concentrate on capturing images and not to have worry about somebody else. 

Now some of you may know that I frequent a certain establishment in Nantes and some of my friends seem to hang out there too.  Some are in front of the bar and others behind the it. I was sitting outside talking and Jean Guillaume comes along to meet up with his wife who is with us.  We’re all talking and I let loose that I’m going to Paris on such and such a day and he says he’ll be in Paris with his Mum and that we should hang out.   What a great idea. Sounds like a plan.  I needed to go to the barber’s and he should probably come along with me. We are men, but sometimes we need pampering too.

It’s decided we’ll go and get ourselves done at the barber’s. I look up various addresses online and get us booked in to Grizzly Barbers.  The name sounds fun and I get him the works. He deserves it. Self care is important and it’s good to be good to a friend when you can. 

My wife and daughter had gone off to see a friend north of the Loire and it was half way to her mother’s house so they went up there too. 

I was a “free man” but used this freedom to get myself sorted out.  So Thursday came around and I headed up to Nantes to get the train to Paris.  1st class was only 5€ more so decided to treat myself.  Slightly larger seats and a bit more leg room.  And you get to feel extravagant.

I was on time for the train except my electronic ticket didn’t want to work.  I tried pushing up the luminosity of my phone but to no avail.  The departure was getting closer and the guard called Rennes, who told him that my ticket was valid and I was allowed on the train accompanied by the guard.  The train journey itself was fairly uneventful which is a good thing and my friend asked which wagon I was in and that he would meet me off the train.  I arrived and headed towards the top of the platform, and after showing him a photo of exactly where I was he said turn round and  saw him!  My first stop would have to be Marks and Spencers to get a picnic lunch.  They have sandwiches which are like having a bite out of my childhood and spark so many memories.  He knew the area and we went off to eat in a park.  It was wonderful just chatting and sharing.

Sitting in the park chatting.

After we had eaten he showed me around the Montparnasse Quartier where he used to live and hang out. It was all very beautiful and very Parisian.  I explained that the only imperative that we had was to be at the barber’s for 1pm, and prepare ourselves to look great afterwards.   It felt good to back in Paris and it was great being there with a friend.  I knew a little of the area but was far from knowing it an intimately as Jean Guillaume.   There were some great photos to be had and he was so patient waiting for me each time and telling me that I was about to be run over etc. 

With time flying by we headed to the car and drove to the barber’s  and managed to find a space just outside.  I was amazed!  I would be scared poopless driving in Paris by my friend seemed to thrive on it.   Maybe the fact of it being August and really empty helped.  They had all gone on holiday!  A word of advice to anyone visiting the capital. Go in August, half  the people aren’t  there and the half that are still there seem to just want to chill!

and managed to find a space just outside…

When you enter Grizzly you can tell that it is a very high end and high quality barbershop and the service was excellent.  My barber and I talked about our mutual passion for photography as he shaved my head the old fashioned way, and then proceeded to do my beard.  I made sure my barbershop virgin friend got the whole whack.  Hair cut, beard cut, getting his nostrils waxed, and a neck massage to finish with.  He deserved it.  It’s important for guys to have a guy place for being pampered.  Even if you don’t go every week, it’s worth it maybe every three months.  It wasn’t cheap, but so worth it, and worth every cent!   I’m looking forward to going back.  Definitely an experience.  Jean Guillaume was certainly more than happy with the whole shebang and felt fabulous, and looked great!  What more could you ask for?

felt fabulous, and looked great!

I spotted a camera shop and we parked up and went in.  It was like a child entering a sweet shop with many things of great beauty.  I saw a 15mm lens for my Pentax ME Super, but at 1350€ I thought it might be difficult to justify spending as much.  And my wife would kill me!  I did however come away with a little Olympus Pen EE S half frame camera which is something I’ve been looking for for such a long time. An amazing find, and the day I go back to Grizzly, I may have to go back and visit that little shop.  It was turning out to be a great day. 

I was asked where I wanted to go, and I said the Marais, aiming to get to the rue des rosiers which was, and still is, the epicentre of the Jewish community in Paris.    It’s an amazing place and on Sundays it can get very busy.  I went into a Jewish bakery.  Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel!  I was about to correct that.  We had been in book shops with art, we had sat in beautiful gardens eating chocolate covered raisins.  We even got as far as Beaubourg.  Time was still flying by, and we had to go and see a friend and give him his flat keys.  Another good deed for the day.

Jean Guillaume had never had Strudel!

The last stop of this epic day was going to be WH Smiths on the rue de Rivoli.  Bookshop, with such a great choice of books.  I ended up buying The English, by Jeremy Paxman, and a couple of books to give me some light reading about what it means to be English, and Irish.  They also have some food essentials for anglophiles like Yorkshire tea; I already had some but still came away with a few goodies for my wife and daughter.

We sat outside the café where we had parked. Wine for one, and a pint of 1664 for the other of the two friends. They discussed everything and more. They were chilling as friends do and looking back over the day they had shared together with new and old experiences for both of them. It felt good to be alive.

They discussed everything and more.

The last stop was Gare de Montparnasse where the trip had begun. We headed off to Marks and Spencers to get our evening meal. I had selected a few sandwiches to eat on the train, and a few more goodies for home too. We headed up to the platform to where my train was to leave from. Little did I know then that I would not be getting on that train. Jean Guillaume waited with me for my train. There had been a blue Adidas bag that had been left on the train and over the loud speaker came the announcement that the person who had left said bag should come and get it and that the train was being delayed.

After a certain time, soldiers had got onto the train, more police had come along. Things weren’t looking good. Crunch time came when I got a text message from the company to say that the train had been cancelled. My friend was still with me and explained what they had just said over the tannoy. I had my bags with me and my walking stick over my arm. Apparently they were gong to try and sort out hotels for us and allow us to take the train the next morning.

Now whilst listening to this i turned around and hit somebody with my cane. Not hard, but enough to get “the look” so I very quickly apologised and with Jean Guillaume we diffused the situation. But we got talking to the lady I had just agressed with my cane. Then all of a sudden he said, “I can take you back!” My first reaction was to say no, but the idea worked it way very quickly into my head, and we would drop off our new friend Annie on the way back. I phoned Virginie to prepare a bed for our guest and I knew we had what we needed in our bag to make a wonderful breakfast.

The decision had been made. We would drop off Annie in Angers, and then head home to Nantes. We found a corner shop that sold us some water, and a couple of chocolate bars for Jean Guillaume for energy, and then a café that would sell us a coffee. Those little Parisian coffees that just wake you back up. We said that we would pay gas money and road tolls. It was out of the question to leave our friend out of pocket! I also said I would do some of the driving if needed to help out.

The trip back was quiet, at least for some of it as I had drifted off to the land of nod. I was woken up and asked to just chat to our heroic driver. It was a pleasure and we looked back at our day, and how wonderful he now looked, as well as plans for the future, and we put the world to right. I took over the driving, and when we needed more petrol we stopped off and I filled up the tank. We got to Nantes station a 3.30 am, and I found my car. The machine to pay for the ticket didn’t seem to want to work and neither did the interphone when we tried to talk to a technician. There was a homeless guy sleep with his girlfriend sheltering out of the rain who lifted up the barrier for me to get out of the car park, but I still paid at the exit and thanked him for his efforts.

I thanked Jean Guillaume, my hero, for getting me back to my car, and he went home to his hunny to surprise her, and I drove the last kilometres to get home to my wife and daughter. Heroism is when you go above and beyond the call of duty, and Jean Guillaume was a true friend and a true hero. So thanks once again, Jean Guillaume, ce héro!

The Lockdown Diaries Part 2

If you’re still here then it means that you’re still alive and not dead from Covid 19, or the light beer virus for those in the know, which is a good thing after all. Soooo…

Lockdown is officially over but it doesn’t really feel like it. People are still covering their faces with masks, which would have been a motive to arrest people during the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations. Strange how things change so quickly.

I have a tendency towards social anxiety that can be treated with beer, but not the light variety. I tend to withdraw into my room and not come out. For the others it must be like living in a Victorian Mansion where you don’t go onto the East Wing despite the ominous noises that come out from there. Or me being a legend like the depressive yeti, where it was once seen near the fridge but then vanished. I think I mentioned that my son’s girlfriend was living with us during lockdown, and then one day there was a knock on my door, and she told me she was going home to her mother’s. That came a bit out of the blue, and I went into anxiety overdrive, like why is she leaving, what had my son done, what had any of us done, I’m sure I always flushed the toilet, didn’t I buy her her favourite jam for breakfast etc. Apparently it had been planned all along. She was just there for the duration…

It’s strange how you can get used to a situation and then all of a sudden everything changes and you don’t know what world you are living in anymore. It’s like entering the Twilight Zone, nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah….

Things are open here like shops, Mac Donald’s, schools and the like, but it’s not the same. The omnipresent fear of the dreaded virus is strong. No touching people, no being close to people, changes at work…. I hate it. Sometimes I’d rather be dead. Human kindness seems to have packed up ship and buggered off. Human warmth doesn’t exist. There is just this fear. People being short tempered and distant, and complaining about everything. Not just suspicious minds, but suspicious everything. The authorities say one thing one day, and then it changes. When we need strong leadership we realise that they are as shit scared as the rest of us and don’t know much more than we do. And yet life goes on, but I hate this life.

So what can I do about it? Not a lot. When I get to work I have to go through a checkpoint managed by my workshop bosses. They take my temperature, and put a small amount of gel into my hands. Nobody shakes hands anymore and you just go to your work station. The coffee machine has been shut off, and I really feel isolated in my stores. People used to come in and have a chat, but that’s gone. And I’m the lucky one. I have Alexa with me who plays me BBC Radio 2. The presenters do a great job, and it makes me feel less alone, but it’s not the same.

I know I shouldn’t complain and just keep calm and carry on, take it on the chin, and stiff upper lip and all that, but this situation is without precedent in my lifetime, and is slowly wearing me down. Thank God I still have my photography. It really is my only therapy and gets me out of the house and doing something constructive.

Talking about photography, let’s please, move onto something les anxiety inducing. The following photos are of the pond and prairie that I talked about in my last article. There is a mixture of digital and film photos. I have been exploring the notion of pushing film. This not involve putting a film canister in the table and nudging it forward gently, but not exposing it at box speed.

Let me explain. I buy Ilford HP5 Plus black and white negative film. Normally it is to be exposed at 400 ASA. However, by under exposing and extending the developing time you can get a little more contrast on the negative. Other consequences are that with less light, I can still have smaller apertures and get more in focus. I will get more grain but that’s fine. It adds to the analogue photo I think. You’ll see what I mean when you see the photos. There will be three galleries, one showing digital images, one showing the images from the film exposed at 800 ASA, and the last gallery showing images exposed at 1600 ASA. How does that sound?

This first gallery was taken with the Canon 6D Mark II and the 16-35 mm F4 lens.

This second gallery was taken on the Pentax ME Super with a 50mm F1.7 lens with Ilford HP5 but pushed to 800 ASA

This last gallery was taken on the Canon AE1 Program with a 50mm F1.8 lens on Ilford HP5 but pushed to 1600 ASA

The Lockdown Diaries Part I

Now I realise that this title might sound like the beginning of a series of posts that will have even more episodes than the Avengers film franchise, or for those of you who are my age, even more films than in the Sly Stallone Rocky series, minus the boxing. And I’ve purposely not indicated how many episodes there might be, so like that I’m covered and I know you’ll just keep coming back for more.

As you might have guessed, and I think I’ve already said before; let me just go back and check… Yes I have said before, my big lockdown project was to eat cake, drink tea, take a couple of photos and get this film photography funk over and done with, like flared trousers in 1980.

With the help of YouTube, calming myself the “f” down, and a couple of purchases on Internet, I sorted myself out. Now I knew that I could take a reasonable photo. But developing was a different matter. I had lost confidence, and it was time to grab the bull by the horns, which is easier than grabbing it elsewhere, and just start at the very beginning, which as Julie Andrews reminded us, is a very good place to start.

When you take photos with an analogue camera, you need an analogue camera, check, some film, check, and then you load the film into the aforementioned film camera, and go out and take some photos. I did this in my village, and you’ll be able to see where I walked: the vines, the park, and the prairie where there are lots of ponds, with lots of ducks who had been doing what ducks do in the Spring and swimming with the ducklings and being fed bread by my daughter. The noise of the frogs, the animals, and not my fellow villagers from the Vendée, was deafening!

When you get back from your walk, you disappear into your bedroom and set out the developing kit, minus the chemicals, on your bed, and hope that you still remember how to get the film from inside the film canister, onto a plastic spool, which goes into a drum, and then a cover goes onto the drum to keep everything away from any light. Oh yes, you do this by putting everything you need into a developing bag, and doing all this by touch and without seeing what you’re doing. If this sounds like a lot of faffing about when you can just use your phone to take “pics”, well you’d be right, but I’ll get back to you on that, later on.

You take this “drum” into the bathroom, and put it on a shelf and then prepare you chemicals. You will need a developer, a stop, and a fix, and I’m not talking about smoking a cigarette that makes people laugh. The developer will make the pictures (in negative) appear on the film. The stop, you’re not going to believe this, will actually “stop” this process, and the fix, will fix the image on the negative by disolving the excess emulsion that was on the film. Then you have the cleaning process which will allow you to have some wonderfully clean negatives that will dry, and then can be cut up into strips, and then put into sheets that will protect the negatives.

But enough of all this negativity! Let’s make those negatives into positives… Bloody hell I’m sounding like some American self-help book! I do this by scanning each negative which will make a positive, and I end up with a picture on my computer. Yayyy, go me. Good job I’m not called Nads!

As you can see I’m really into recycling in a big way, because I’m sure I’ve used that joke before.

I then class these photos by camera used to take them, and by date. It’s my OCD going into overdrive again. My house is untidy despite the efforts of my long suffering wife, but my hard drives are so well organised, that a librarian would be proud of me.

After this I get to play with the images on my computer and then after minimal editing, I publish them, either on Instagram, on Facebook, or here.

So I have these images ready to share with you. But further up I talked about faffing about and why don’t I just used my phone like everyone else. Well? Firstly I’m not like everyone else as my parents will tell you. Some people will say the film photography is about slowing down. You take your time to think about the shot, you look at the scene before you and take the time to decide what elements are interesting, what to include and what not to include. You think if this picture that I can see I my mind’s eye is worth taking and worth the expense and time to develop it. But that’s only part of the story. I like the process of capturing the photo with film. You click the shutter, wind on the film, don’t look at the back of your camera to check if your picture turned out OK or not, and hope for the best. With time, this becomes “normal” and might teach you some patience. I also like using the old camera. It’s looks better hanging around my neck than my phone. When people see you using a film camera, people look at you as if you are more worthy, and a craftsman exercising his craft. There’s the touchy feely side of actually going through an analogue process and manipulating something tangible and getting a result from that process, instead of just creating an electric image. The quality of those images with the famous “grain” may not be as sharp as some digital images, but they have a certain quality about them that cannot be produced digitally. There’s also the thing about converting nearly all my digital into black and white, so why not just cut out the middle man and do everything on black and white film?

The two main film cameras that I use are the Canon AE1 Program, and the Pentax ME Super. I have others of course, but these are the main two and the following photos were taken on the Pentax using a 50mm F1.7lens and Ilford HP5 black and white film.

I hope you enjoy my efforts.

Parc Oriental de Maulévrier

I’d heard of this place since I moved to Vendée in 2001, but had never got around to visiting it. The occasion was a friend’s birthday. My photography is my way of detaching myself from this world of commotion and taking a seat to just observe. The French talk about Zen, and “being zen” as an antidote to our modern lives, and finding that certain calm that we all long for.


Japanese gardens are traditional gardens whose designs are accompanied by Japanese aesthetic and philosophical ideas, avoid artificial ornamentation, and highlight the natural landscape.

Wikipedia

Even thought we were in a group, we allowed ourselves to go at our own pace. For those of you who have a photographer as a partner, apparently you have tremendous patience as all of a sudden we will stop dead and start taking a photo. Today I could just get on with it and wander around. Blissful it was, blissful! The only person that doesn’t mind me doing this is my son who waits patiently. If we go out, I will do 8000 paces, and he will do at least 12000 because of turning around and coming back to me. I do love that boy!

All these photos were taken on the Canon 6D Mark II, with the Helios M44-2 58 mm lens, except for one shot, which was taken with the Canon 16-35 mm lens. I do like the bokeh it gives you and on some of these photos you can actually see the swirly bokeh! Try and spot it…