Hepple for Photos not Gin

Hepple. Even just saying it gives me a certain sensation of pleasure. Heh-pull. It just rolls of the tongue, and the pull sound at the end is tension that is let out and offers some relief. A bit like a fart, but less smelly. Amis de la poésie, bonsoir!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Alnmouth but I like to get out into the country when I visit my parents. You drive into Alnwick, and then through the town past the TA base going up towards Rothbury and the on to Otterburn where the Army likes to play soldiers with live ammo and you are warned not to go onto the land otherwise you might go boom. Going boom is not a nice thing to do and should he avoided at all costs unless you really do want to go out with a bang.

You go past Cragside which as a family we have visited before, in the sun and the rain. It was one Summer and it was raining all bloody week and my mother said we should go out to Cragside and have fun going through the maze on the hills around the very stately home. It was a great idea, except for the fact that it had been raining like a cow taking a piss, and the whole place was waterlogged and we were all wearing crocs (other more suitable footwear from other brands do exist) and that other footwear would have been most welcome. We arrived back at my parents house soaked and a little pissed off. Oh the joys of family holidays during the British summer.

I digress. Je diverge, et parfois je dis bite!

Anyway, you go past Cragside and you will eventually end up at Hepple. I tend to go through the village and park up on the verge after the bridge. You can’t miss it, and if you do miss it the you are on the wrong road.

I have this stupid idea in my head that if I watch enough YouTube and try and learn ever more about photography from the various videos watched, and learn to leave my comfort zone and try new things, then I might discover something new and find out something that I might not even suspect possible. Yes it was one of those kinds of days… I should have known.

I was in the car with my camera and my father for this trip out. For some reason or other, fate had thrown us together and I had missed having sandwiches for lunch at parent’s house and still can’t remember how and why my father was in my car. Well, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to spend some quality time with one of my favourite people. So we had driven off to Hepple. I promise I will get to the end of this story. Maybe not straight away, but maybe by the end of this article.

Parked up. Ready to shoot. Camera out. Lens on camera. And then I just jave to work the scene and try and get compositions and pictures together. Now one video suggested using a telephoto lens for landscape photography. I wasn’t sure about this but tried it anyway just in case. While I was out of the car taking photos my father would be quietly listening to car radio holding one of the lenses as I was doing my thing. Bless him. That man has the patience of a saint. Either that or he enjoyed seeing me doing my thing. It was sharing with him one of the ways I seem to spend a lot of time.

It’s moments like that, that will stick in my memory forever in a way that going to the kitchen to get salt for my wife will be forgotten once I arrive in the kitchen. Not that I don’t want to to get salt for my wife, I just seen to forget very quickly.

So I started of by using my wide-angle lens and the thought, why the hell not, I’ll get the 70-300mm out of the bag and see what I can do with it. A wide angled lens will give you a very wide angle of view and offer up some wonderful distortion. Hence the name wide angled lens. The originality of that name still blows my mind! A telephoto lens however will give you the impression that everything has been drawn in and the background seems to be just being the foreground. It compresses the view… However they still say telephoto lens and not compressor lens. Go figure.

In the photos from this outing I think you’ll be able to see which photos were taken with which pens and of you click on each photos you can see the type of lens used in the description.

It’s one of my happy places and one that I keep going back to. They must think it weird that every summer a French car pulls up and this fat dude gets out with a camera and starts taking photos then gets back into said French car and drives off with souvenirs in his head that will keep him going until he comes back. It was just brilliant being able to just take in the scenery and enjoy being there with my Dad. Definitely a keeper that memory. It was just happiness. Happiness is being out with your Dad taking pictures and just being two men in a car driving across the Northumbrian countryside. These little instances of happiness that just seem to carry you through. Thanks Dad.

A View from the Garden

Sometimes you know that you’re going to get a reasonable couple of shots. The conditions just fall into place. Sometimes you have to break away from your Guinness and your parents hoping that they will understand.

We were out in the garden having a drink before eating that evening. It was a Sunday evening, and the day had been wonderful, and there was me thinking that it couldn’t get any better. It could! I had my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm lens which is a favourite of mine. The previous day’s sea mist had made a comeback. Now fog always makes for some very atmospherical photography as you can see here.

This view is what decided my parents to buy this house all those years ago when they first moved further north from Newcastle. With various winters and storms, some trees have had to come down, but that view through those trees just brings peace to any beholder.

Enjoy and find your peace…

Alnmouth First Day of Photography

As promised, I said I would share photos from my trip to Northumberland post by post. No novels, just photos…

I have got my need for colour out of my system. Maybe. Possibly. Well, never say never, and all that. I wanted to share some timeless black and white photography.

It was my first morning of photography where I sneaked a visit to Scott’s of Alnmouth for elevenses. There was the sea mist that you saw in my article Sea Mist. And when it cleared, it was an amazingly sunny day.

Not necessarily the best of conditions for photography, but as a photographer, I try to adapt to the day’s conditions. Lots of contrast etc. It also avoids getting up the crack of dawn. Thank you Dawn.

Does this mean that I am lazy? Possibly. Do I care? Absolutely not. When on holiday, I commence my day with a cup of tea (or maybe even more than one) and toast. It’s possibly time for a cup of tea right now. As I age graciously, I appreciate these simple pleasures of life. I also still have some Yorkshire tea! You’re jealous now, aren’t you!!

Parisian Nights.  Part II.  Montparnasse et Montmartre.

First of all, well done for not missing part two of this incredible recitation of fifty-something outings in a lovely part of the world, except where my wife is concerned.  She didn’t come because of her great wariness of Paris and all things Parisian.  I did want to come, which is how I can write this second instalment.  Her loss.  She just missed out on all the fun, fun, fun!

So, where was I?  Definitely in a great mood, probably not in the fittest states if I were driving, and heading gently back to my hotel after having said goodnight to friends!  I had missed out on pudding after my evening meal and knew that I had the Cyrille Lignac raspberry tart to look forward to.  I found my room and actually get into it without having to call for help.  It was a warm evening after a warm day, but the coolness of the evening was starting to arrive.  O happiness, I could get my window open and still reserve my modesty with the blinds.  I hit the deck.  Well, I didn’t hit.  It was like sliding into bed in a happy, sugary, raspberry mood and I drifted off to sleep.  Hotel pillows seem to have this magical way of sending you off to dreamland….

I had set an alarm, just in case, but woke up at 6am.  Far too silly, but it allowed me to emerge at a leisurely pace, which seems to be my general speed at the moment.  Mass was at 11 am, so I had loads of time.  Breakfast was between 8am and 10am.  So definitely had loads of time.  Now came the epic battle with the shower.  Trying to work out how to operate it and not getting shot with cold water.  Yay, it was possible and turned out to be a lot less challenging than I thought to begin with.  I even got the rainfall showerhead to work.  It was lovely just being able to chill, listen to Radio 2, and take my time without guilt.  I floated down to breakfast, in an incredible mood.

Hotel breakfasts are something I quite enjoy.  Self-service, and a chance for me to pretend to be healthy, with yoghurt, fruits, cheese, ham, pain au chocolat, cornflakes and, most importantly, a nice cup of tea.  Once you figure out the various dispensing machines for the hot drinks, you’re fine. I finished before 10am to respect the fast before Holy Communion, and floated back up to the room and looked after my skincare and beard care routine.  I may be a fat git, but I like to be a well-groomed fat git.  Bag packed, and ready to check out knowing I could leave my bag at the hotel until my train, a very useful service. 

The Church was on the Boulevard Montparnasse, just beyond the cinemas and cafés.   It was a beautiful church dedicated to Our Lady, and the frescos high up on the walls were perfect for visualising the episodes of the Rosary.  An old lady came up to me and gave me a hymn sheet and the Parish bulletin.  She was one of those sweet old ladies that you can’t just say no to.  I saw others that tried but saw how futile it was.  Obviously an old girl on a mission.  Three priests as well.  Music that brought a tear to my eye.  It was lovely.  After mass, I said my Rosary and headed off into town.

We had arranged to meet up at the Abbesses metro station in Montmartre which has one of those Art déco metro entrances that you see in all the photographs.  I got the typical shot and regretted not having stayed around to get more detailed shots.  Maybe next time.  Because, as Arnie said, “I’ll be back!”  We met up at the appointed time and meandered through the streets to the Funicular.  I would not walk up those steps.  Let me bring you back to the leisurely pace concept mentioned earlier.  As we were going up, I showed them where I would probably have had a heart attack if I were taking the steps…  We got to the top and spied an Irish pub.  Well, it would be rude not to.  We ordered a couple of pints from the typical Parisian waiter.  The man was running around like a madman.  We knew straight away that he wasn’t having a good day, showed appropriate empathy, and won him over.  There was the pub itself, a speaker blaring out rock music, and the guy was covering three terraces. Another girl looked after serving the food.  We waited, waited, and waited some more.  We gave the order to the waiter, whose back was obviously giving him gip, and jokingly said he should try some cocaine for the pain.  He jokingly replied that he was already on cocaine, and I think having seen him zooming all over the place, I believed him.  It was just poor management, and a lack of staff, and they were doing what they could.  Anyway, we were about to leave and the food came.  Not the right order, but the right order was there fairly soon afterwards.  We were debating if we shouldn’t just cut our losses and leave and just pay for the drinks.  Anyway, we saw people coming up the stairs that we had given up on.  Some were actually running up “and down” and “back up again” obviously being far too sporty for a Sunday Lunchtime.  We saw a “pétasse Instagram” posing and being photographed by her mother.  Obviously getting the Paris trip shot for her feed.  Something I would never do…  Maybe I should?  Big dude being a “pétasse” and posing like a pretty, young, twenty-something.  It could be style and a sociological view of beauty standards on the Internet.  Or it could be bloody awful.  Maybe not then.

We looked over the panorama of Paris, trying to identify the buildings we could see.  I even saw a tower in Romainville near where I used to live when my wife and I lived in Paris, or rather just outside Paris, in those close suburbs you see on the news, but not for the good reasons.  I do love living in the country.  Sacré Coeur is an amazing church and crowns Montmartre like Our Lady, keeping an eye over Paris and the Parisians, making sure they do nothing too stupid.    We wound our way through the narrow streets towards Place de Tertre, which had been overtaken by restaurant seating pushing the artists to the edges of the square.  I kept my eye on Dom who was keeping his eye on Vanessa.  It was mid-afternoon and after nearly 30K paces in the weekend; I was knackered, and those taxis were looking very appealing.  We walked down to the bottom of the hill and saw a poor tourist being ripped off by the game of the three cards and you have to follow the Queen, etc.  A good old-fashioned tourist scam.  It was simple spotting each member of the team, and I felt sorry for the poor guy. 

We arrived on the boulevard, but the heat, fatigue, and knee had got the better of me.  I’m not good at goodbyes. In fact, I would even say that I hate them.  We hugged goodbye, and I descended into the abyss of the Paris metro, arriving parched at the hotel to fetch my bag.  I must have looked awful as the guy went and got me some water.  Maybe looking like a fat old guy has certain advantages to it?  I took my bag and crossed the road to the Montparnasse train station.  I could buy some food and water.  Knowing exactly where I would go to eat and drink, English voices that reminded me of young English public school boys filtered through.  It’s always strange hearing your own language in a foreign country, even though you might expect it in Paris.

I was headed to the platform when my train came up on the boards.  My electronic ticket worked and allowed me through the gates.  I boarded the train and sat at a table for four.  The other seats were taken, but being in first class, people attempted to be quiet.  The lady opposite me offered to take my bag for me and put it in the rack at the end of the carriage.  I felt guilty because it was heavy, but she was very gracious about it.  My headphones and tablet gave me that sense of privacy and I watched YouTube on the way home.  In the group chat, I informed everyone that my train was on time and I wished them a pleasant trip home.  Normally it was planned that my son was going to pick me up at the station in Nantes, but Virginie told me to get a ticket from Nantes to Montaigu, which I did at Montparnasse and told me she would pick me up at the station in Montaigu.

Once home, I just got naked and went to bed, in a very non-sexy way.  I just wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible.  Work would start at 5am the next morning.  Not the easiest of things.  It was a wonderful weekend, and I was so happy to have met up with friends from home and Sergio from Nantes.  It was like having a bit of home coming to see me and was just what the doctor had ordered. With all the various Facebook posts and reels, and I suppose this article, we have dragged that weekend out to nearly three weeks. So Happy Birthday Vanessa.  Welcome to the 50-year-old club.  It would appear that it happens to the very best of us.

Parisian Nights. Part I. Montparnasse…

Do you know how sometimes an event in time keeps you going?  It could be getting home after work, leaving work for lunch, or even having a cup of tea and a slice of something nice from the bakery.  What kept me going was the idea of seeing friends, two friends that I had not seen since COVID.  It was Vanessa’s 50th birthday and Dominic, her husband, thought it would be a wonderful idea to take her to Paris for an entire week.  I suggested it might be an idea to meet up in Paris and that I would come with my wife.  Overnight stay so we could have an evening out and not have to worry about getting a train whilst slightly squiffy!

I haven’t been home since 2019, and this was like a bit of homecoming to see me.  I met Dom 39 years ago when I left boarding school and went back into state Catholic education in my hometown.  In between getting my head kicked in by various other pupils at the school, we became friends.  This continued through school, and we found each other on Facebook whilst doing the whole nostalgia thing.  But the friendship from our childhood still held strong.  I met up with him when we were in the UK in 2019 for a week. It was as if time had just gone out to pee, and just came back as if the intervening 35 years just didn’t happen!  I think the fundamentals of our personalities and character traits don’t change all that much, but despite life experience, these fundamentals remain constant.

So when he told me about the Paris trip I thought, well, my wife and I know a bit about Paris, and what a perfect excuse to go up to the Capital and have some fun.  Let’s just say that my wife does not share my passion for Paris.  The biggest part of it is having grown up there, and only seeing the downside.  She once went back with my son when he was little and after having spent time out in the country.  It all felt foreign to her, and the icing on the cake was almost falling for a tourist scam.  She had become a human being.  Since that encounter, she gets worked up at the idea of going to Paris.  She let slip that she felt she couldn’t come with me and that I would go alone.  Not as a slight to Vinnie and Dominic, but because she would make my life a living hell. 

So there you are.  I would go on my own.  I have a friend from Nantes called Sergio, who lives in Paris at the moment, and I added him to the group chat and he was full of ideas about where to eat and not too expensive places either.  It would be good to see friends and introduce old friends to less old friends.

I booked my train and then got emotional about the high prices of Parisian hotels.  I ended up finding one, reasonably priced, and just next to the Montparnasse train station where the high-speed trains from the West of France arrive in Paris.  In between the actual booking and getting on the train, the entire trip kept me going.  I was in a great mood.  It was like escaping from real life for the space of one weekend. 

My wife took me to the station, I found the platform, scanned my ticket on my phone, and was let through.  The booking was for 1st class not because I’m fancy, but for €10 extra, you get a quiet carriage and a larger, more comfy seat. At the very ripe age of 50, and being a slightly rotund gentleman, and I thought the €10 was worth every penny, or centime d’euro.  I told the group chat how my train had left on time and that I would be in Paris at Montparnasse at such-and-such a time.  Nothing more to do than watch YouTube on my tablet and try to find places to visit and magnificent tables to eat at. I waited an hour at Montparnasse, waiting for Dom and Vanessa to arrive.  They seem to be less good at using the metro than I am.  Then we played the game of finding the metro exit.  With modern technology, photos and smartphones, we found each other and headed off to my hotel to get rid of my bag, as my room wouldn’t be ready.  Whilst chatting and walking to a café, Vanessa spied a smoked salmon bagel.  I spied it too, and we went in a got it for her.  Dominic had a chicken curry sandwich, and I spied with my little eye a chocolate macaron.  Did I ever say that I have a weakness for cake?

We settled at the “Café Montparnasse“, sat down on the terrace, had a beer, and then judged people walking by.  So it would not be a dry weekend.  Ah well!  Somehow, with the metro, we ended up at Le Bon Marché, where I wanted to get some lovely socks.  Yes, I’m 50, slightly rotund, and like a certain brand of socks, which were in the sales.  Don’t judge me! Vanessa found some very nice perfume and treated herself.  You’re only 50 once!  We found the Grande Epicerie.  Mind you, it was just across the road, so not overly difficult to find either.  It had everything that we needed for our picnic, including bread, wine, and various goodies, that were perfect for a Parisian picnic.  They were both very impressed!  Sounds good to me.   

We visited the convent where the Miraculous Medal was revealed to Soeur Catherine Labouré.  Now I knew all about it and had visited it last time with Killian.  We got the article up on Dominic’s phone, and they were both suitably impressed.  Even if you’re not Catholic, it’s an exquisite place and well worth visiting. 

Sergio told us about the Convent gardens as a great place to picnic.  We found a seat in the shade, and out came the Opinel and corkscrew.  We opened the Bergerac 2016, and it was right up Vanessa’s wine street.  Even Dom liked it.  I’d chosen a bottle of Muscadet for him for later.  We ate, drank, and just talked the time away.  Can’t think of a better way to spend time. 

Well, actually I can.  I had been a good boy and was therefore allowed a treat.  Not too far from the convent was a bakery.  That’s not much of a surprise. We are in France, after all.  But this one was owned by celebrity Patissier Cyrille Lignac.  I had heard great things about this place and had been convinced by Sergio to give it a visit.  He knows of my weakness for cakes.   The cakes on offer were exquisite as they should be, but they seemed to have even more class!  They looked beautiful.  I’m a fan of chocolate cake and nearly had one, but the Raspberry tart was just screaming out at me.  I bought it and spent maybe too much time thinking about how it was going to be lovely to sink my teeth into.

We headed gently back to my hotel so I could check in and I changed shirts and freshened up but tried to hurry about it as Dominic and Vanessa were waiting downstairs for me.  The room was fine, not huge, and the bed seemed as if it would be comfortable, which is always good.

Our venue for dinner that night would be the Café Montparnasse, which is one of those typical Parisian Bistrots with good food and excellent drinks and where you don’t feel judged by the waiter.  I can’t remember what time it was, but it was too late for tea and not quite time for dinner.  However, the French, in their infinite wisdom, have given the world the Apéro, or pre-dinner drinks.  You get a little something to nibble on too.  We told the waiter that despite the three of us, there would be a fourth person joining us.  The gentleman led us to our table on the café terrasse.  We ordered our drinks and got back to “juger les gens et mater les culs.”   

Sergio, thanks to his parents, is Mexican and can have a slightly different idea of time from us, more northern Europeans.  The French also have this concept of having a drink to make the absent person arrive more quickly.  Again, pure genius.  By drink number three, Sergio arrived.  Vanessa and Dom were very English in greeting him, and I, of course, was very French and gave him “la bise.”  Google it.  The more time went on, and the more drinks we had, the camper Sergio got, and it was such a pleasure seeing them all getting on so well.  Dominic had Chicken and chips, but French poulet in a nice sauce, and some frites, if I remember correctly, which is not something I’m good at, I think Vanessa had something quite healthy like a salad, and Sergio and I had fish quenelles, which were just divine.  Vanessa and Sergio have a common love for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” and were quoting whole chunks of it, and debating the veracity of the language.  It had been decided, after our lovely meal, that we would seal our friendship by having a nightcap somewhere along the Boulevard Montparnasse.  I found my church for the mass the next morning, which thankfully was at 11am.  Vanessa let slip that she had been a majorette and took my cane to show Sergio how to twirl.  Sergio’s life goal is now to become a majorette!  We said goodbyes, and I went to my hotel to get some sleep and be ready for the next day’s activities. Dear Reader, you will have to be patient, and wait for me to write part 2!

My friend Hervé

I was at Mass, in Nantes, on a Sunday evening, and being appropriately prayerful, knees bent praying to prepare my mind for the sacrifice of the mass wondering if I was going to be able to stand up again. Despite my gammy knee, it wasn’t a problem. Mass started, and they were off.  During the entrance hymn, my director of music at my Wind band, but most importantly, my friend, Hervé, accompanied by his wife, and daughter, walk in and sit just in front of me.  We gestured hello, but you don’t interrupt the Word of God, and we saved niceties for after Mass.

It was a genuine pleasure to see him there and not just because we share the same faith, but just nice to see a frightfully nice chap, but also an all-around good egg!  We exchanged conversation and I said how wouldn’t it be nice if we could go to the pub for a pint.  They’d had a long day, but to his utter disbelief, Veronica, acquiesced and we were given her blessing.  I suggested they park in the same place as I usually did and that we meet up.  We both knew where the pub (John Mc Byrne) was and headed off to claim our reward for obvious good behaviour.

They were already at the pub by the time I parked and so I walked up to join them.  Strangely my nose just seems to lead the way!  I saw him standing outside waiting for me and I showed him the best seats in the house, or for me, nearly a home (it’s where I see my friends).  I introduced him to Simon who knows nearly everything about sport, whiskey, and good places to eat in the vicinity, the Rob, whose jokes are almost as cringe-worthy as my own, and lastly to Gavin who is half and half…  Half Scottish and half French.  His parents are obviously to blame.

We commented on how the establishment wasn’t a bar but was a proper pub, and how nice his pint of Irish IPA was.  I persuaded him to taste a pint of O Hara’s Nitro, which is the nearest thing that I found to Yorkshire bitter over here.  We both seem to have similar tastes in beer, which helps in a friendship.  It’s unbearable when one likes lager and the other friend, beer….  It tuned out that he had some homemade Bitter that he wanted my opinion on.  Ah well, there goes a perfect reason to meet up again!  Fortunately, I was going to be on holiday during that week, so we set the date and time said goodnight to each other and headed home.

I asked if I could bring along my portable photography studio to take his portrait and he very kindly agreed.  At the appointed time, on the appointed day, I turned up with my studio and dog.  Molly wasn’t very sure about hanging out with a big very friendly, almost too friendly for her, beautiful chocolate Labrador, who was coming out of puppyhood and entering doggyhood.

I said she could stay in the car and left the windows slightly open so she would be fine and said that I would come back and check on her now and again.  Smaug, the Labrador, was put on one side of the house, and Molly decided she could stay by my side and still be OK.  We tasted the beer and were unanimous in our praise of this wonderful concoction.  Then the photoshoot.  Hervé already knew that I dabble in photography, as do you Dear Reader, and was most impressed when I set up the studio.  I was quite impressed by it too because it was only that afternoon that I had back to revise how to operate my speedlights and trigger.  The first shots were more to break the ice, not just for Hervé but also for me, and already we were getting some good shots.  He played me a recording of a new project launched by the Brass Quintet with whom he plays and has my old horn teacher as the horn player.  It was amazing.  They were playing in church with a massive organ played by the organist from the Nantes Cathedral.  Wow, that is all…

We then go the instruments out.  First the E flat tuba.  I thought, let’s just break him in gently.  Then I went back out to the car to get my horn and make him look like a proper musician with the most beautiful instrument from the orchestra in his hands.  We would suggest to the horn teacher that Hervé had finally seen the light and wanted to convert.  Then we messed it up by getting out his conductor’s baton.  All in all, we were having a laugh, talking, just as friends will be want to do.

I ate with them and by the time I left that evening the two dogs had even sniffed each other and were even respecting their own private space.  That Smaug is one lovely dog and not at all dragonlike as his name suggests.  He’s a big softy.  A bit like myself Dear Reader…