The last Saturday before Christmas

I have said it on here before, and I will say it again. I have moments of folly, where lucidity says bugger this, I’m outta here punk! And so it was the Saturday before Christmas. I had agreed to meet a friend in town and help her choose presents for her nephew and niece in Switzerland. I also thought I could get to confession and prepare my soul for the feast that is Christmas.

I was slowly getting used to the Fujifil XT2, and thought, right, I’ll go out early and try and get a space before everyone else has the same idea, and get used to it even more. I arrived at the car park and had to wait at the barrier, but was patient.

I phoned my friend to say that I had managed to park the car and felt slightly smug. I texted her and she said she was still in pyjamas and having her coffee. Ah… Well I wasn’t expecting that. But that gave me some time

Whilst learning photography back in the day when I had hair, I used a 50mm lens, and learnt how to use it through and through. It was years later that I acquired a 28mm lens for my Praktica MTL 3, and really got into it. Later I continued when I got my X100F (35mm equivalent), my Canon 6D Mark II with the 16-35mm zoom lens. So it seemed logic to get a wide angled lens for the XT2. I ended up getting a 16mm which is a 24mm equivalent. Not too much distortion but still nice and wide.

Parked in Feydeau, and just next to the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne, or Nantes Castle, I thought why the heck not, and headed up there. I just went with no specific goals, and waited for the photos to present themselves whilst walking around. I discovered a little art gallery that I hadn’t seen before and it was a real inspiration.

I walked towards the Fnac where my freind said she wanted to meet me. She was getting a record player for her girlfriend and wanted my help to choose. We chose, and headed to Sugar Blue Café for lunch, which was one the good ideas I had that day. A vegetarian salad, and for the desert we got to cakes. One was the Christmas cake, which had red fruit, crème de marron (which is a huge favourite of mine), and covered in Marscapone icing, the other cake was a Stracciatella Cheesecake, which was sooooo naughty. That’s wrong, both were amazing, and I’ll just have to go back after they get back from their Christmas break.

I told her that I wanted to go to confession and she said she would go and try and find an Ugly Christmas Jumper for her Christmas meal. We stopped off in a shop that does paper crafts for the presents for the children. We parted, I went to church, and we met up after the rain to go to the Comptoir Irlandais to get all those Christmas goodies that you can’t get anywhere else. I needed bickies, and cake for all the tea that I would be drinking over the holidays. We finished up in the Pub, and I was able to present her to my friends there. The restaurant across the road had no tables left!!!! O disaster! I had a plan B. My plan B was the Reine Margot and although it looks like a fast food joint from the front, the menu tells a different story, and when you get past the initial corridor, you enter the restaurant. We started with snails, then duck, and I finished with a chocolate cake, then back to pub for a swift drink before heading home.

All in all a lovely day, with a lovely friend, and I was happy with the catch of photos for the day.

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….

 

Nantes in Novembre

Halloween has come and gone and the countdown to Christmas has begun, but no trees until at the earliest the beginning of Advent or at the latest St Nicholas’ Day.

The weather is now officially miserable and rainy. And with the hour having gone back the nights seem to be staring earlier. The rain is not proper rain, but drizzle. It’s not cold yet but the humidity is making itself known. As I drive though the country I can see leaves changing colours, falling and turning into mush along the roads. I can see mushrooms sprouting out of nowhere and remember not to take them from fields that have had crops in them.

It’s the kind of weather that makes you want to dive in to a cafe, and have a nice cup of tea and piece of cake. The French are making great efforts at tea, and though not up to Yorkshire standards, it is becoming more and more drinkable. I have stocked up on Yorkshire Tea pre-Brexit, so should be good for a while. Thank heavens for extensions!!

For the photographers amongst us we are facing the other challenges that Autumn sends our way. Bad light, rain, and worrying about getting our gear wet. I still think it’s worth going out though. You might think that you need the sun, the good light, the warmth of Summer or Spring, but each season has it’s own particular beauty and deserves its place in our photographic collection. The soft light will lead to less contrasty images, and you will have to think more about the scene in front of you.

Photographs are like ideas. They are there waiting to be picked and put down on paper, or on screens, and shared. Are we really inventing and creating or are we merely recording what is there?

People have accused me of being and artist, and I have told them that I am nothing more than an observer and documentalist.

I have heard a definition of art saying that art is the transformation of matter by the artist into something new. Drawing is taking the graphite in the pencil and applying it to a page, painting is taking the pigments, putting them into a medium, be it oil, acrylic, or water, and applying them to another medium, be that paper, canvas, or anything else that will let the paint stick to it.

Now in photography one could argue that the matter is light, that we apply to a film in our carmera or our sensor… I see people creating things either in the darkroom or on the computer. Is it art? Possibly. But I feel that what I do isn’t. I do some minimal editing, the basics if you will, reframe and then publish. I might apply some of the basic rules of art to my photographs, but does that make me an artist? I don’t really think so.

When I was studying the horn, yes dear reader, for my sins I am a musician also, I was told that when you play your concerto in front of an audience, you are reciting the text on the page of music before you. The phrasing is given by the composer, as well as indications of nuance and dynamics. Alright, not before the classical period, but they followed conventions that were deem so self evident that there was no point in writing them down… so! I play my concerto. The audience may listen to it and maybe moved by the composer’s music, and when they clap at the end, or throw bottles of beer etc., is it due to the music, or just my playing of it? I won’t be as prideful to say it’s my playing. I am just reproducing what is on my page. The same things goes for photographs.

Once that concerto, or photo is out there, it is no longer mine. It belongs to the audience or you, the viewer. It might inspire an emotive response, but it is not me, it is your response to the stimulus before you. It might remind you of something. It might spark that souvenir from the past that I talked about in my last article. You might even interpret it in some way that I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

The photos were taken on the x100f. I’m off to mass so I will love you and leave you. I hope you enjoy looking through these photographic offerings.

Nantes in September

I’d been wanting to get back into Nantes with the X100F to try and do some old fashioned street photography. I’ve been experimenting with colour and have had some interesting feedback. Maybe it was a case of getting it out of my system.

With the Canon I have a few interesting lenses and although it’s great having the options, it’s equally challenging to go without.

Now I have to explain something to the non-French readers. Basically the whole of France is on holiday from mid July to the end of August. My firm litterally shuts down for the month of August and we get four weeks off work! Between you and me, it’s also the best time to visit Paris, because all the Parisians have buggered off on holiday elsewhere!

The obvious consequence to this mass migration is of course the return to every day life in September. This return to work is called the Rentrée and sucks big time for everyone, even more than a small child sucking juice though a non plastic reusable straw, because single-use straws are the spawn of Satan and mess up the environment.

We have the children that go back to school, the TV shows that start again, the MPs that go back to Parliament, etc. You get the picture. Can you remember the Gilet Jaune demonstrators? We’ll they’re no longer in holiday, and are back to demonstrating. Their Rentrée was the 14th of Spetmber, and they all decided that it would be a really good idea to come to Nantes and cause a bit of havoc and make sure that the police knew that it was the Rentrée too!

And, (there I go using And as a beginning of a a sentence) this pillock thought it would be a good idea to go along into town, and thought it would be fine. And to be honest I have seen worse, but it allowed me to get some interesting photos.

Course de Serveurs et Garçons de Café, Nantes 2019

It has been know for me to frequent a certain establishment in Nantes now and again, he said whilst competing for the understatement of the year. That establishment, aka Daddy’s happy place, aka mes quartiers à Nantes, aka the pub, aka home from home, is the John McByrne Irish Pub, 21 Rue des Petites Écuries , Nantes.

It is a place for which I have a great affection, not only because they supply me with Guinness, and Taytos imported from Ireland (and I’m going to be really controversial here, I prefer the salt and vinegar, but even the cheese and onion are perfectly palatable), but most importantly, the bar staff, that started out as just people, have ended up being friends. And that Dear Reader, is the most important, and wonderful outcome.

And, (you should never start a sentence with And, but I’m feeling a little rebelious here about gramatical conventions, oh my life has such depth, and what was I going to say again, ah yes, no, it’s gone again…)

Oh yes, back on track there… And, as a friend, I want to help and offer support. And, (oh there I go again) this time I did it by not just buying them chocolate, and other rather naughty things to eat, but by coming along to support them in the annual Course de Serveurs et Garçons de Café, Nantes 2019.

Wow, only took me four paragraphs to get to my subject. I’m doing well today!!

Here is Eydie with the official tray with a coffee cup, energy drink, sparkling water, non alcholic beer, and an orange soda.

Each competitor must carry this tray over nearly three and a half kilometres, with time being deducted for spilt drinks. They are not allowed to run, only walk, and of course they have to go up the stairs in the Passage Pommeraye, twice. I’ll just let that sink in for a few moments. Take the time to imagine them going up all those stairs with a tray, looking slightly odd in fancy dress costumes. Is that image in your mind? You’ll see it in the photos anyway!

They didn’t end up on the podium, but they did win best costume and won best team spirit, which is even more important.

Here are the photos taken on the X100F which was perfect for capturing the whole atmosphere of the day.

Humber Street

In 1987, my father bought me my first SLR. Notice the D is missing. So, I did say SLR and not DSLR. It was a Praktica MTL3 and it is now retired (polite way of saying Kaput) and sitting on a shelf in my son’s room. It took film. And the first roll of film that I shot with it was down Humber Street

In 1987, Humber Street was the fruit market of Hull, and I’m not making an unpolitically correct joke about sensitive men looking to do sensitive things with other sensitive men. No. That would be wrong and very un-enlightened of me. No, they did that in other places dotted around the city.

I used to shoot my film, get it developed at a place on Newland Ave, where I got the camera, and the guy would present me with a contact sheet and critique my photos. For those of you who were born after this analogical age, a contact sheet is where you lay out the negatives on a sheet of photographic paper, and expose the paper, and develop it, and get a whole load of thumbnail images that you can look at and decide which were worth printing. Yes, just like the thumbnails you get on the gallery on your phone, except it might have taken a little longer…

There was one image that pleased me immensely of a cat sitting quietly on a box of fruit wondering what the hell I was up to. That was then.

Skip forward a few years, just a few mind you, because I’m not an old git yet. No sonny Jim, I’m just a git! The area came into it’s own in 2017 when Hull was declared City Of Culture. People were proud of their city again and there were whisperers whispering, “Come to ‘Ull, it’s not shite anymore!”

The ‘gentrification’ of the area started with bars, and even Art Galleries! Then of course came the Humber Street Sesh, showing some amazing local musical talent. This year’s Street Sesh was last night, so you’ve missed it!

At the bottom is the Minerva. Minerva is of course the wise old owl in Greek mythology. It is also a pub which always has such a special place in people’s hearts. They do good food and good beer, and good gin, so the wife was more than happy.

The two nights before these photos, I had met up with and old friend from my school days who was kind enough not to mention all the silly shit that I used to get up to in my youth. The next night was a school reunion with people I hadn’t seen since 1985 and 1988 for the lads. Tales were told that I will not repeat here including stories about a pogo stick, and how I once said “merde” to my French teacher and left the room throwing my French books into the bin on the way out. They told my French wife, “Well he always was a bit European….”

Well now, you’ve kept reading up to now so I suppose I should tell you about these photos. They were taken on the Sunday night when I needed some “me” time to deal with the overwhelming overload of nostalgia. I was out with the Canon 6D Mark II, and the 16-35mm lens. Hope you like them.

Did I go on for too long?