Welcome to 2023

First of all, Dear Reader, I wish you a very Happy New Year for 2023! May it be better than 2022 and may it bring you everything you need to continue your life journey. At this time of year, we all tend to look forwards and backwards, and it seems fitting that Janus, the two-faced god, gave his name to January. We look backwards to the preceding year to see what we can learn from our experiences, good or bad, and forwards to the new year with hope and an expectation of change.

2022 saw my first contact with Covid back in March. Not the most pleasant of experiences, and I think I gave it a 1 out of 5 rating… It saw the war in Ukraine, and our fears of Russia going mad and destroying the entire continent. This, despite prayer, seems to still be the case, except at the cost of so much human life. Roe v Wade was overturned in the US and hope was given to the Pro-life movement. It saw my first trip back to the UK since 2019, and it was wonderful being back and seeing family after such a long time. In the final days of the year, it saw the death of Pope Benedict XVI, one of the most misunderstood popes of these times. On a personal note, we were so worried about Molly, our family dog, and feared losing her in December. Fortunately, she is a lot better but it was a close shave. It might sound silly to some, how one can get so emotionally attached to an animal, but I swear I was writing her obituary in my mind and crying about the whole thing.

For Christmas this year, I am happy to report a total lack of drama, and on the contrary, think the whole shebang went off wonderfully. This was in part thanks to the visit of two of my nieces who came to spend this special time with us. One of the nieces even came to midnight mass with me and the next day, Christmas Day, the six of us were together for mass which just shows how special Christmas is. It just shows how the simplest of things can have so much meaning and how they can bring us such joy.

I was on holiday the week before Christmas and the week after Christmas. It would appear that I might have even lost a tiny amount of weight, and some of my t-shirts seem to be less tight. It might not last, but for the moment I’m just going to enjoy it.

It was just so special to have time with my family and have them around me. I took the girls into Nantes to share some of my world with them, and believe it or not, I had a camera with me, so I might just have to share some of my world with you, too! The weather was abysmal, but on the last day before the return to work, the sun was out and I went into town to have some special Ian time, and just wonder the streets between confession, and missing the pub being open. It is likely, however, that I pop in this weekend to wish my friends a Happy New Year too!

He’s still wider…

Dear Reader, in my last article I said I would try and get some more photos for your delectation. On Saturday I was in a rehearsal room all afternoon playing for a new orchestra. The Symphonique des Bords de Loire, which basically means on the river Loire just south of Nantes.

The Orchestre d’Harmonie de Cholet have just just changed musical direction, and all of a sudden I was looking for a new direction (not the pop group), so I seized the opportunity to make a change and start playing some more “classical” music in a different setting. I of course wish them the best of luck with their new conductor.

So that’s where I was on Saturday afternoon and so wasn’t really busy capturing images with my new toy.

My wife has decided to get to some Spring cleaning. Who ever said you can’t do autumnal Spring cleaning? Vive la différence! My cleaning skills despite military training in the early nineties have been declared not up to my wife’s standards and methods so my apparent incompetance is your gain, and also allows me to be out taking photographs with my new toy, the 12mm TT Artisan fish-eye lens on the Fujifilm XT2. At least I’m doing something creative instead of getting shouted out for being bloody useless.

So, I am now in town taking photos at the Hangar à Bananes which is seriously lacking in bananas before going to Sunday night mass, and looking after my soul. You get a different kind of crowd on a Sunday night and it feels a little more exclusive. I will then proceed to the pub for a pint of Guninness to look after the Guinness family, and to continue to drink the pub dry one pint at a time. This is a life long quest so I can take my time instead of do it all in one session. I suspect that they might being re-supplied before I can dent their stock. I suppose it’s just a feeble excuse to go to see my friends and talk bollocks all night.

Here is the photographic evidence of the time spent this afternoon pursuing artistic endeavours!

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…

Palm Sunday Photography

Last week I wrote about Palm Sunday and the importance that it has in the liturgical calendar.  Today I would like to talk more about photography.  In my article about the Canon 6D Mark II and the 16-35mm lens, I talked about how it seemed to be a less productive day, and it was indeed, and that next time would be possibly different.  New day, and different light, by definition.  Well, it was.

Spring has sprung, we have changed hours on the clock, and the weather seems to be a little less despicable with some nice sunlight, whilst still having some lovely light fluffy clouds to be amazed by.  Whenever that happens, I know how I want my camera.  I want it, firstly, with me, otherwise, photography becomes a more laborious pursuit.  Secondly, when doing my editing, I want to reproduce the effect of putting a red filter on my lens as if I were doing black and white film photography.  The blue skies become darker and the fluffiness of the clouds just seems to pop out.  Add a little contrast, and bob’s your Aunty, or Uncle depending on his or her pronouns…

It might seem slightly old fashioned to you, but I find very this type of image very pleasing, and it gives off a certain old-timer vibe, and as an old-timer, at least compared to the young timers, I’m more than happy.  Everything is relative anyway.  Maybe I am of the age where I no longer care about impressing people and just want to do things my way.  I’m not saying I don’t love a compliment either.  All men do.  Ladies, never underestimate the power of a compliment to a gentleman.  We may seem cool on the outside, but on the inside, this compliment will boost us for ages.  Try it.  I dare you!

I parked the car at the Feydeau underground car park, and just walked along towards the castle, and for me as an introvert, actually dared to ask somebody if I could take their picture, at least a picture of their shoes.  The young lady was most obliging and said yes.  Thank you.  One of my favourite photos of the day and in “colour!”  Then the famous Miroir d’eau, which is more subtle than Bordeaux’s water mirror, but in Nantes, you get the reflection of an enormous castle, which is where I went next.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to follow each and every pace.  You can do that by looking at the photos at the end of the article.

I parked the car at the Feydeau underground car park, and just walked along towards the castle, and surprisingly for me as an introvert, actually dared to ask somebody if I could take their picture, at least a picture of their shoes.  The young lady was most obliging and said yes.  Thank you.  One of my favourite photos of the day and in “colour!”  Then the famous Miroir d’eau, which is more subtle than Bordeaux’s water mirror, but in Nantes, you get the reflection of a huge castle, which is where I went next.  Don’t worry, you won’t have to follow each and every pace.  You can do that by looking at the photos at the end of the article.

To sum up, a very fruitful outing, with a break at the pub, so, even more reason to describe the day so worthwhile.  Thank you for following and feel free to share your impressions.  I promise not to bite!

The obligatory bike shot in the streets of Nantes

To start off with this was just going to be a short preparative article before I publish my the photos from my night time article about night photography in Nantes. I was going to start off by talking the pubs opening in England and Ireland tomorrow. I wanted to show you the way that the new normal isn’t like the old normal but it’s still OK and that you can still enjoy meeting up with friends and rediscovering each other after lock down. Our bars reopened on the on the 11th of May so we’re kind of used to the whole thing. We put on our masks if we have to move around the bar. I might be half English and half Irish, but after a certain quantity of ale we all have to visit and inspect the plumbing. Just put the mask on and don’t forget to wash you hands afterwards;

So I’d finished work at 11h45, and was free for the whole afternoon. When I go to Nantes I always park in the same place. I’m a creature of habit. So, I park, and as soon as I come out of the car park I put my camera to my to check my settings. To start with I had the Helios M44-2 55mm lens on the XT2. It’s a lens famous for its swirley bokeh, but on the APS-C captor it’s more tricky to get, but it’s still a beautiful lens. I take a few shots of Bouffay. The bikes, the tramlines.

I wanted to capture the textures of the street. In black and white one can’t capture colour even if that colour information is present in my RAW files. I was looking for repetition of patterns, wanted to to get depth of field, wanted to play with the light reflecting off the street and capture people coming through the pool of light.

Strangely the pub isn’t very far away from these photos and I strangely I found myself sitting down with a Guinness in my hands… I had my mask on, and my hands have never been cleaner. It’s good to be amongst “my people” once more. I think that’s what I missed most about lock down. Having this social group of people who are good to me and make me want to be good to them. They know their names, and I love them dearly!

Well I wasn’t expecting that to go there… I’m such a sentimental old fool. I have hugged them and have made a real special effort not to break their ribs whilst hugging them.

So here are the photos of the pub where my “people” seem to congregate.

So it was already a great night, but I wasn’t there just for a good time despite rumours in certain quarters that I will always deny of course! I wanted to take even more photos. I had the Fujifilm XT2 and the 7 Artisans 35mm F1.2 lens which turns out to a be a manual focus, 50mm equivalent. I usually like to go wider, but that’s my little secret!

When I’m next in Nantes, hit me up! I’ll usually tell people on my Instagram and come up and say Hi! I might even buy you a beer. If we talk, be ready to talk about photography and this fair city of ours. If you have any questions about the photos in this article then just ask! I don’t bite.

The confinement

If ever you weren’t aware, there’s this virus going around, that was named after a light beer, and then the producers of said beer went mad and told the scientific community to get their shit together and give it a name that sounded less like drinking beer out of a bottle through a wedge of lemon. COVID 19 was born.

It seems to be one of those Chinese exports that nobody wants, but it gets through anyway. If you listen to the conspiracy theorists it was created by the French and Chinese as a joint venture, without the joints, and tested on bats first. Maybe there were some joints after all…

I’m not a scientist, nor do I have scientific logic. I’m just a guy who writes stuff and takes a few photos along the way.

Things started off gradually at work. In my corner of France, when the shift starts, everyone says hello. Now the French are a bit weird about this, as they are on quite a few things, and I’m not talking about a drug crazed idea in Wuhan, where Jean Jaques smoked a spliff and got intimate with a bat. The rule is that you must go to each colleague and not only say hello, but shake that person’s hand, otherwise it doesn’t count. The same thing is true of the “bise” and is discussed at great length by a fellow compatriot, a guy called Paul Taylor in a video. I don’t know the bloke, but if you see him, tell him I said hi.

Anyway…

So this hand shaking thing was the first thing to go. And was to be replaced by hand washing and hand sanitiser. Then came the inevitable hand santiser and soap, or just one of the above, discussion. One of my colleagues got quite tetchy about the whole thing. Sharing a coffee together and having a chat at the coffee machine was over. You went to get your precious, and then had to go back to your post where you treat like a ring that makes you invisible and go mad….

Then one Saturday night, the French Pirme Minister, said that all social gatherings were to cease, and places like cafes, restaurants, clubs, and cinemas were to shut. And in one foul swoop, he only went and shut the bloody pub!!! Shit had just got serious.

You have to realise that the pub is not there to give me a place where I can be a socially acceptable alcoholic, but also a place where you can find my social support nechanisms. The people that work there and frequent this marvellous institution, are not just people in a bar, they are my friends. I’ll see you guys on the other side of this madness.

That next week, things seemed less funny at work. Social distancing came into fashion, as did saying hi to everyone, by just saying hi to everyone (see above about the handshakebusiness). There had discussions between Unions and Management about how they would treat a possible shutdown of the company of we had to go into confinement, people working from home, and how we would be paid if we couldn’t work from home. But it was still up in the air. People started predicting when it would eventually happen.

It happened on St Patrick’s day at 12pm. We all said goodbye to each other and left work as if we were going on leave, but it was more sinister than that. We didn’t know when we would be coming back, and we weren’t all going on holiday either. We would all be staying at home.

It’s now the 6th of April. We have been on lockdown for exactly 21 days.