Happy New Year?

Happy New Year Dear Reader, and thank you for continuing to read my twice monthly drivel that spews forth from my  obviously damaged mind. Maybe it’s reassuring for you to have somebody madder than yourself?  Or maybe I just admit it and embrace it!

I think at the beginning of any year we always look back to the previous year and basically just hope for the best. That’s  exactly what I did in 2019 and look where it got us!  So this year I’m going to look back and search for the great positivity from 2020. 

I think many of us would describe 2020 as the shittiest of years for a long time.  We were introduced to Covid and saw a lot of our everyday freedoms curtailed in quite a disconcerting manner.  Our dear President Manu, declared that we were at war with this deadly virus.  And made sure the press scared us into complying with some very draconian policies to “protect” us.  So to those who are still alive I say, well done!  To those of us who are still alive I  say, don’t forget those who didn’t make it.  I’m not going to go into inflated figures of Covid related deaths and all the conspiracy theories that might exist, because when you’re  dead, you’re  dead, Covid or no Covid. 

At the beginning of my year I am usually on holiday from work and will think how far away August seems until we get to go on holiday again.  I, like many of my colleagues with look to the month of May, and its streak of bank holidays, labour day on the 1st of May, VE Day on the 8h of May, even though France at best came in a slight second, Whit Monday, and Ascension Thursday.  We are looking to see if it is a worker’s year, or a year for the bosses.

Let me explain to the non French of you.  In France we have a concept that is a wonderful thing, called “le pont” or the bridge.  If a public holiday falls on a Thursday; we get the Friday off too, and the same for a Tuesday; we get the Monday off. If the holiday is on a Wednesday, you get the Wednesday off.  You can’t  win ’em all!

I’ve  just checked on the calendar, and this year it’s half and half.  The 1st and the 8th are on Saturdays, so tough!

Right, now that you know about the concept, you will realise that we look to the month of May as being a way to get a couple of long , and most importantly, paid, weekends.  The weather is usually good and gives us a foretaste of Summer.  Brilliant right?  It also helps “bridge” the gap between January and August, which can be very long otherwise.

Well in 2020 all bets were off.  We discovered a new concept that year. The concept of lockdown.  On the 17th of March, the country went into lockdown, which was basically house arrest, but you’re allowed out to buy groceries, to get one hour’s exercise a day, but that’s  it. Translated into reality the country pressed the pause button, and everyone was put on furlough, with 85% of net pay paid by the government, and the rest by the company.

House arrest isn’t a very positive term, so let’s  make it more positive.  At the Eve of Saint Patricks Day, my local supermarket stocked up on Guinness and put it on special offer!  Daddy was going to have some special Daddy time, and not have to worry about going into work the next day. My son had set up clandestine meetings with his new girlfriend, and despite our protests decided to go out and visit her.  Sex is a powerful driving force…  we said that it would be silly to pay a fine of 135€ just for that.  The following week she moved in with us and spent the whole of lockdown with us.  That brought a certain animation into our lives and despite the intensity of it all, it could have been a lot worse. 

It also afforded me time to rest. I mean proper rest.  A rest from everyday life.  Not like a holiday rest, but a rest never the less.  It made us realise how speical such a moment can be.  It allowed us time to be physically present with each other in a way that “normal life’ doesn’t afford us.  It allowed us to discover a new person. With faults, but also great qualities. The first being that she is a cheap drunk, which in our family who has had a great fondness for drink drinks for generations is really a blessing.  I’m  not saying that we are all alcoholics, despite our Irish roots, but we do partake and enjoy a drink drink. As opposed to a drink, which is left for total abstainers which are a curse on humaity. 

I discovered that my daughter has a fondness for making cakes, and not only just of making them, but is quite good at it.  This brings joy to my heart, as I too, have a fondness for cakes, especially eating them!

We lost track of time, and with hindsight, I realise what a luxury that is.  We all have our phones on constant alert, we all have things to do, we all like to consider ourselves busy, but there,  we were all on hold. Not just people like me but everyone.  Yes, I’m  talking about you, celebrities.  Those people on TV,   those people on our screens.  We saw them trying to prove how they were still relevant on various podcasts, and showing what they looked like without the glamour and  how like us they were, in their massive houses, with massive kitchens, and how in reality they look as shitty as we do on a morning after having had some drink drinks.   I think they burst the bubble and broke the illusion of magic that surrounds them. That’s  an other great thing about Covid.  It showed us the sameness of humanity.  People in my little council house were under the same restrictions as those in mansions. Money and fame couldn’t protect them.  Talk about a level playing field. 

It gave me time also to get back into film photography and my greatest achievement was to conquer my film funk.  I discovered what I had been doing wring and no longer make that mistake. 

Towards the end of that first month of lockdown, cracks were staring to appear, but we still managed to get along enough so as not to kill eachother before Covid would.

I came out of lockdown early in order to go back to work on the 20th of April. As you know I am a big lad, and my BMI is above a certain level which could have allowed me to remain on lockdown and not go back to work.  But as I said to my boss, I’m  not going to get any thinner by staying at home, and the idea of having somebody in “my” stores, not working the way I did was abhorrent.  At the time I was also the only person working in my stores that knew all the products etc…  I was therefore allowed back.

Restrictions were gradually lifted and we came out of our shelters with our masks on, and started to look forward to Summer.  A trip to the UK was definitely out of the question, and my little getaway to Hull, would be cancelled.  I negotiated well and got all my money back. I was one of the lucky ones.  By early July travel restrictions had been lifted and as I had some time off from work, I took my daughter to Paris for the Day.  I rediscovered the  capital after having beem away for 20 years.  I also got to spend some quality time with my daughter.  We had the chance to meet up as a wider family, so for the Fête Nationale, and met up with other membres of the French family to celebrate.  Thanks to Sean Tucker and his very educative videos, I had launched myself into the world of portrait photography and was fortunate to have some willing victims to be portraited…  We even celebrated the 60th birthday of a great friend too. It felt almost normal again. 

August saw me going back to Paris twice and loving the capital as much as ever.  I’ll be back!

Spetember seemed to be very normal, but mask wearing seemed to be coming back into fashion. This would not be your typical rentrée. Even in  the windband things were going to change as lockdown 2.0 came info force.  Lockdown 2.0 was an awful lot like what I lived through in April.  Everyday freedoms taken away, except I could still go to work, and al5hough regearsals, they had changed and we were spaced out in the rehearsal romsphyically I mean of course. No mushroomswere harmed in any way.  Come Novemeber concerts were cancelled and we discovered curfews, but only in certain counties.  But it was all just putting off the inevitable further lockdown. 

Christmas was relatively normal and we were allowed to go to the non essential shops again on the 15th of December.  The government installed a nationwide curfew, but would not enforce it for Christmas.  It was good to be together again as a family and celebrate a very special birth.  Don’t worry, I’m  not going to give my Christmas sermon about how God the Son, part of the Holy Trinity, allowed himself to experience a full humanity, and human fragility. Born not as King, despite being God.  Humanity, human fragility, and exceptional humility. 

New Year’s Eve technically was under curfew. My wife had decided to get the house looking ship shape for that evening’s meal.  That means that it is a wonderful opportunity to bugger off and not be there to annoy her by just existing and breathing. 

Last Year I had buggered off to Nantes and spent the afternoon and early evening taking photos of the Hangar  à Bananes, so this year decided to do something else. This might just be turning info a tradition…  possibly…

Over the two weeks of holidays, my sleep has gone haywire, and although I sleep enough hours it is a broken sleep. Today it would be different. I had decided to bugger off to the beach in Noirmoutier and would enjoy the sun coming up over the last day of this rather “particular” year. The alarm went off at 6am. You see how serious I was? My camera kit was in the car. I shut the car boot and my cup of tea fell off the car roof and broke. It was as if 2020 wanted to get the last laugh. Bitch! I still got off on time and the road took me past my factory. Thankfully I didn’t stop and kept going. I arrived at the supermarket in Noirmoutier at opening time, and decided to go and have a pee in the supermarket toilets.

I went into the toilets and discovered the light was broken. I wasn’t going to pee in the sink, which has been an option, albeit an emergency option in the past. Luckily I had my phone, and used the torch on that to light my way. I got my sandwich and went back to the car. Ate the sandwich, and headed off to my final destination. The rest as the say is history, and you will see the pictures at the end if this article.

So now you’re pretty much up to date. I have seen may Instagram stories being rather rude about 2020, and how shitty it was and how 2021 can only get better. But taking stock, 2020 was a good year. People got together against a common foe, people realised that life has more important lessons for than Facebook. People realised that there are so many more important things in life, like family, and freinds, and the importance of all these social interactions that have been withheld from us. I know now where my priorities lie, and how much I treasure them. Has it been easy? Not every day. But with vaccines coming out, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe i will even be able to get back and visit the UK despite Brexit. Maybe Brexit might even work. A free trade agreement is all that Britain ever wanted anyway. 2021 will undoubtedly have its own set of challenges but 2020 has shown us that we can get through things that might seem impossible. Let us hope so anyway!

Bourrée ou Macé?

To start with, I’d planned on going to one of the Loire Valley castles yesterday, but due to brain fog I thought it better to just go to bed. So I did. This morning there was no sign of fog, outside or in my brain.

I thought I would go to the Chateau de Plessis Bourée as I do like a drink, and bourée means drunk in French. I do have a family reputation as a drinker to keep up. So off I went. It’s a beautiful place and that day it was a very beautiful place, but also a very shut beautiful place. It seems the Plan B will have to do, which is the Chateau de Plessis Macé, which is slightly more sober. Boring…

I’m actually writing this in the car as I wanted to get that drinking joke out of my mind and onto paper, or screen…

All I have to do now is to drive 19km and I’ll be at party pooper castle! It had bloody well be open or I’ll be very upset and have to go straight to the pub. And with all these new restrictions means I have to get a couple in before chucking out time at 10pm. It sounds like English pubs on a Sunday when I was growing up.

Right off I go. Talk to you later Dear Reader.

I have arrived in one piece and I assume that the Plessis Bourée was nursing a hangover after a particularly good night earning its name once again. Macé looks slightly more open, or at worse, less shut. We shall see! The excitement is killing you isn’t it. Seated there on the edge of your seat wondering if I’ll be successful on this trip. It is with trepidation that I shall open the car door. Maybe more with the handle…. poor trepidation.

I decided against taking the guided tour. I did the “visite libre” and handed over my name, phone number etc. in case of Covid contact. Therefore, as the cheap skate that I am, I only visited the outsides. I still managed to get a couple of nice photos and was able to visit the Chapel.

I’ll put up the boring stuff like links etc., addresses, prices when I finish the article later on. For the moment, you’ll have to do with this!

Now for the boring stuff, or maybe even interesting stuff, depending on whether or not you enjoy history.  A Plessis is a fort built on a hill surrounded by bushes as a defence, and the word Macé comes the Latin word for Mathew, Mattheus. The original fort was built in the 11th century buy Raynaud the first and was a wooden tower, in the 12th century the wood was replaced by stone.  It always pays to invest in construction.  It defended Angers from the Dukes of Brittany.  We nicked it during the Hundred Year’s War, as it was pretty much abandoned.  It also allowed us a little pied-à-terre from which to nick local natural resources.  This is wine country and who doesn’t like a drink eh?  We were mercilessly pushed out of France, and the Plessis was taken over by Louis de Beaumont who built the castle that we see today.  1678, the Castle is bought by the Bautrau de Serrant family, and in 1749 by the Walsh family (which doesn’t sound very French to me, just saying).  In 1868 the Countess Sophie Walsh de Serrant (OK so maybe they were French after all), took up residence in the Castle and launched a huge construction project in the actual Logis.  1907, the Archives de France director, Charles Victor Langlois (Charles Victor the Englishman, Langlois is the medieval French for Englishman, oh the irony) acquired the Castle.  As in most of France during the Second World War, the Germans occupied the Castle, as they did the rest of France.  Yes, there’s something Vichy about the French, as Noel Coward once said.  1967 Philippe Langlois-Berthelot gifted the Castle to the Maine et Loire Department, possibly to avoid paying taxes (again, nothing sure, but follow the money…). 1980 the “Commons” builing was renovated as function rooms.  You have to make money somehow, and who wouldn’t to have a reception in a beautiful castle?  1987, the artistic director of the Anjou Festival, Jean-Claude Brialy, a French and very butch luvvie, presented the infamous Barber of Seville by Beaumarchais.  Skip forward to 2020, the photographer Ian J Myers visited the Castle because the other one he wanted to visit was shut, and he was buggered if he was going to leave the area without taking a couple of photos for posterity and his blog!

You, Dear Reader are now up to date.  All that is left for me to do is to edit the photos and present them to you. I had originally planned to visit a few of the Loire Castles but then Lockdown happened, again! I’ll change plans and see what I come up with for future articles!

Happy New Year

So I was almost late for Merry Christmas, but in France you get until the end of January to wish people Happy New Year, so not late at all! Yayyyy, go me! Thank heavens that I’m not called Nads…. (old joke, and I’m nearly ashamed of using it to introduce an article)

Here we go then. Happy New Year. Or as the French might say on a good day, Bonne Année à toi! Which as work will be answered by, Bonne et heureuse… Et la santé avant tout! Have a good and happy one, and good health above all. That’s not really my thing. It sounds like a formula that you bring out to shut people up. I wish you enough riches not to be afraid of going to get the post everyday. I wish you friends or a friend to help you and be there for you. I wish you not what you want, but definitely what you might need. Anything else is a bonus.

I also wish you the joy that a cup of tea and a slice of cake give me!

Since I last wrote I’ve been taking a few photos, been back to work and have completed my first week of the year. I have lead two choir rehearsals, been to one windband rehearsal, had a whole day of windband rehearsal, and have have had the odd cup of tea. Some of them very odd.

On the 31st I thought it might be wiser to let my wife be, and let her look after things rather than be in her way. I know my place after all. Killian was supposed to be heading off into Nantes to bring the new year with his friends. For those of us staying at home, my wife had decided to prepare a raclette, which is based on melted cheese covering pieces of cold meats and potatoes. As I’m not into meat, this was a waste of time for me, but she was lovely and made sure I had a vegetarian option.

So to let her be, I thought I would go out with my camera and try and get some nice photos of the Anneaux de Buren and maybe the grue. Whilst out I met a friend who I had run into when we were out with our children. I spotted his camera, and he spotted mine and we got talking about photography. We still have to go on that photowalk Patrick! Time was getting on and I thought it wise to wish him a Happy New Year, and head back home.

I don’t know about you Dear Reader, but the idea of having to enjoy myself just because somebody said so, gets me a little cranky. Yayy it’s the Reveillon so you have to have fun! No I don’t. So just before midnight I headed up to bed. My facebook status read, Happy New Year, can I go to bed now?

The photos were taken on the Fujifilm XT2 with a 24mm (equivalent) lens, and the Helios 58mm lens. Can you tell which photos were taken with which lens?

Day out with my son

I’m in the pub after having heard Mass in the Cathedral with my son. Last might he was out having “drinks” with friends for his birthday. I said I would meet him in Nantes the next day and that we would spend the day together.

He would be able to choose his birthday cum Christmas present. Since I’m a nice guy and loving father (sometimes…), but what the heck, I said that I would pick him up at his friend’s flat.  The plan was to go into town, have brunch together in the Passage Pommeraye, go around the shops for him, his sister, and my wife, and then go to mass together.

That, at least, was the plan. I picked him up and he looked almost human. We drove into town and actually had a coherent conversation, but he did say that it was a little too sunny and bright… We parked the car and entered “smug mode!” There wouldn’t be any spaces later on, but I found one quite easily… Lady Luck was smiling on us. Little did I know she was just lulling us into a false sense of security.

First things first, he needed some cigarettes, so of we went to the Tabac, then off for brunch. On the way we met a couple who are those kind of people that know how to make you feel wonderful as soon as you see them. I’m not saying that being Canadian has anything to do with it, but it might explain something. Or it might just be that they are just so special and one of a kind. They’ll know who they are if and when they read this. They’re also the couple that told me about Mass in the Cathedral on a Sunday night.

We left them to their meal and pre-meal drinks on the terrace of the café. Direction, the Passage Pommeraye for a wonderful brunch, and Killian was in need of coffee. We got there and the bloody place was shut! Disaster. That Lady Luck was being somewhat less of a lady.

I started scrambling for a plan B. We found a place that sold hot dogs. Everything made on the premises and sourced locally, and not expensive. But they were massive, and we wondered how we were going to get something so big into our mouths, which as you guessed is what she said… We sat on the steps in the street to eat them. As we ate, we saw children passing and “they” knew they had just seen Father Christmas…. Happens often at this time of year.

I had decided that my son needed some clothes and I wanted him to have something nice, so we headed to the nice part of town. We hadn’t had coffee yet and he really needed some, so we ordered 2 expressos, and chatted whilst we sipped them. There was a shop that I had been in and thought, oh I have to take Killian there, and I had forgotten the name of the place and where it was. Two hours and quite a few steps later we found the place and our luck changed. The shop was open!!!! He wanted a flat cap à la Peeky Blinders, and he found one. Present for Killian, check!

By this time he was human again and caffeine had obviously worked its magic, in that peculiar way that caffeine seems to do.

We started wondering again, but this time looking for something for my wife. We ended up on a kitchen equipment shop selling any gadget you could need. This is a very dangerous place for me as my eyes light up like those of a child in a sweet shop.

We got a message from a friend’s daughter saying that she and he brother were in town with friends and would we like to meet up. I of course said yes and that we were near such and such a place. She said she would phone me as soon as she was parked. She couldn’t find a space so they would park away from the city centre and catch the tram to joins us and where would we be. I of course said why don’t we meet up at the pub, and here’s how to get there. We arrived just in time to order Guinness and say hello to the guys behind the bar, and in they came. It was good to catch up and we talked about nothing and everything in equal amounts and they left saying how we would meet up in 6 weeks time at their mother’s wedding. I’ll be taking a few photos as a present for the bride.

Killian and I wondered around more shops just in case we found something for the girls (wife, and my daughter) we couldn’t find anything except for my daughter, but as we were talking about my wife, his mother, we knew what we were going to get for her. Except we have no idea on where to look.

We got the the Cathedral with time to spare so looked around before mass started. That organist is amazing, and you can literally feel the organ music and it resonates in the church. It goes right through you. It was lovely not being on my own for mass too.

Afterwards we thanked the priest for mass and headed off to the pub for a quick pint, and then on to get some food. Vegan burger that was actually really good, and even Killian thought so too, which is praise indeed.

A long day, but a good day. The kind of day that any father and son should have once in a while. The only thing missing? Some cake….

 

Out to tea

It’s a slightly miserable Friday afternoon but has been made wonderful firstly, by my boss, who said I could leave work early, secondly, by a friend who works at the Fnac, but doubles up as a pro photographer, and lastly, by those lovely people at the Sugar Blue Cafe .

Those of you who know me, and those of you who don’t, but have read my blog, know that I have a weakness for cake, and cheesecake in particular. That, and a cup of tea.

I’ve been thinking of buying a drone to do some aerial photography, but after having talked to my guy at the Fnac, have decided against it, so no aerial photography on here. Sorry!

So, as I was leaving the Fnac I could see people with drops of water on their coats. My coat of course is in the car. Remember, I am an idiot after all. As I went through the doors, without the intervention of the security guards, I saw people coming in and shaking umbrellas dry. I could see drops of rain falling on the ground.

Bugger!

I wandered through the Marché de Noël, selling all kind of things that I have no interest in buying. At least there was some shelter from the little bit of rain. I went through the rain into the Place Royale where the fountain, which in all fairness can be described as a statement piece, has almost been hidden by chalets selling jewellery, saucisson, food, games, and all kinds of stuff that they want us to put into our stockings at Christmas.

There was the Carousel and I can imagine the children riding the mechanical horses having harassed their parents to the point of giving in. Or was it the parents off loading their children?

Phew. I managed to pass without giving into the urge to do the same as the children. I mean riding on a mechanical horse and not harassing my parents. At 47 years old I think I’ve grown out of harassing my parents, or have I???

It was nice to take some night time photos of the lights in the streets and of the square. I’m usually a right Humbug, which sounds so much better than a grumpy old fart!

Oh bliss, the Sugar Blue Cafe is still open. I do like this place. Oh bliss, the Sugar Blue Cafe is still open, and there is somewhere to sit. On a Saturday it can get very full very quickly, but the wait is always worth it. I love the food they do. It’s fresh, sometimes vegetarian, and always lovely. I ordered my vanilla cheesecake with the fruit of the forest coulis, and a cup of Lapsang Souchong tea, which has been a favourite of mine since I was an angst filled teenager. I had a bit more hair back then…

On either side of me are young twenty something women talking about pregnancy, the fact that her dad didn’t like the book she bought last year for Christmas, a friend who was refused a bank loan for a small business. Telephones are on the table next to their plates and cups. Modern teatime I suppose.

I look just like an old fella typing on his phone. I can’t be really bothered to listen anymore. When I write in English, I seem to block out any French. It’s as if I’m on my weekend now and I’m not interested in making the effort. Now they’re talking about marketing and business communication. You see Dear Reader, you’re not missing anything.

Apart from the cheesecake and tea….

Happy birthday Gilet Jaunes

I’m writing this in a theatre before the tune up begins in about half an hour’s time. I was thinking back to yesterday and going out to Nantes to take a couple of photos.

I was in a foul mood on Friday; a colleague who was a nice bloke and all round good egg has just resigned and Friday was his last day. Plans have been put in place to find an “interim” solution which means more work for me and somebody else doing the forklift work. I’m not sure it will work as well. Anyway! That’s my problem and not yours, but explains why I needed to get out and do some photography.

Some of you might have heard of the Gilet Jaune movement or Yellow Vest movement in English. It was responsible for a few demonstrations that gradually became part of every day life in France. I had forgotten that yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the movement. They hadn’t, and neither had the police.

As I came into town I could see a whole load of police vans parked up in front of the castle. I thought that for a sightseeing trip it was a bit strange. I parked the car in the underground carpark and as I came out onto the street I did what I always do. I check my camera settings and take my first couple of photos.

It was foggy that day and I could see people heading towards me. They were crying. The fog gave some lovely photos. Very atmospheric. Lkke having a smoke machine on a film set. And then I started crying. The emotion of it all? No. Tear gas.

I’d seen worse, and a very nice young lady gave me some water to rinse my eyes. You see, the president has brought the population together but maybe not in the way he hoped.

It must have been around 17h. I had to be at mass for 18h on the other side of the Cours des 50 Hotages. The only problem was the police and demonstrators had decided to play silly buggers and take the mickey out of each other. More gas. I asked one of the policeman dressed in a rather fetching black number did he think it was possible to cross the road and be in time for mass… He thought it would be possible. That bloody chicken never had any problems crossing the road.

I eventually crossed the road and started talking to a couple of Turkish guys. They said what a very well mannered and elegant demonstration it was. Well, this is France after all. But that the riot police looked pretty hardcore, which in all fairness is true! The demonstrators moved forward. As did the police. Then the police put the smoke machine back on.

I dragged myself off to mass and it was lovely until a guy, either drunk, or high, or both came in. Strangely enough I was more enraged by the fact that he hadn’t taken his hat off. I left my seat, genuflected, and gave him my arm as we walked down the aisle. It must have been a really pretty picture of the happy couple. People looked on with relief as they didn’t have to do the dirty work.

I opened the door and told him to sober up first and then it might be possible to talk and not to interrupt the people at prayer. As I came back in there was a man who said thank you, as there a four doors to the church and how he can only cover two doors at a time. He thanked me and my new friend tried to come back in. I marched him out gently again. At the end of mass I saw the gentleman who had thanked me. Apparently our friend had come in three times by different doors. Never dull in ‘Ull, or Nantes either.

Mass finished and I headed towards the pub to say hello to everyone and get a bite to eat before going home. The car was parked nearby too and that’s the only excuse you’re getting!

The photos for the day were taken with the Canon 6D Mark ii and the vintage lens Pentacon 50mm f1.8. The older lenses give you a different feel and effect. I hope you enjoy them. Feel free to comment…