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!

My old friend

My old friend melancholy is back with avengeance. She’s a bitch and knows exactly what you don’t want to hear. She reminds you that you are in a sexless marriage, that you are useless to everyone, and that you would be better off dead.

If I look for sex somewhere then I’m the shit, but it’s not the “done thing” to impose oneself. And sex is not just the only thing lacking in my life.

I want out. I want to die. That’s why I’m slowly killing myself. When I’m not good I eat, which will only bring me closer to death, and yet, in an ironic twist of fate, if I don’t eat the same fate awaits me.

At least as a fat guy, society has decided that I’m not allowed to be a sexual being. Who would to have sex with me anyway? Not even my wife does, so why would anybody else?

It’s not just about sex despite what society might say. It’s the connection that sex can give its protagonists, or even the intimacy. Since the advent of Covid we have been told to be wary of everyone else. We all have masks on. We are told that we have to socially isolate. We are social animals and this lack of physical contact is ruining all of us. It will leave scars on all of us for years to come. The problem is that I love my wife deeply but it’s as if there’s a gulf between us. Maybe through death I will be able to set her free.

I feel lonely every day. I am on my own every day at work and work on my own, and it’s the same at home. Solitude can be a blessing, but it can very quickly become a great burden. I even feel resentment every time that people ring me at work. I have my work to do and it’s as people are just interrupting my day. How inconsiderate of them.

I will not be missed. There may be slightly fewer photos on Instagram but people get on with their lives. Life continues despite death of one the protagonists. Eventually people cope and “get over it” and the person really is “laid to rest.”

I just don’t fancy dying in France. I want to die at home. It might have been a fashion in 1914 to 1918, And my grandfather had a couple of brothers eho were killed and buried over here. I want to die at home. I’ve been here for 26 years and I’m fed up of it all. Boris may have ruined my country’s future, but it’s still home.

As a Catholic I try and offer my suffering up as a sacrifice for my many sins. That’s what Ste Thérèse de l’enfant Jésus told us. She was dead by the age of 30 and was a Doctor of the church.

I’m not suffering from despair, I just want this situation to end. I know I should just suck it up buttercup, man up, and stop feeling sorry for myself. Easier said than done. That’s what I was told by my form master when I was at prep school. My mother would say the same.

Some would go and offer sympathy on Facebook, as if a message on a virtual notice board would help. I’m not putting down peoples’ intentions, but you have to get real. It’s like putting a black square on social media. It doesn’t help.

Some would say, go and consult. That doesn’t help either. The head shrinkers are madder than me, except they know they are. I just have a small inkling that they’re even more full of shit than my intestines after eating a whole load of fiber.

I don’t hate any of you. I just hate myself. I am told that God loves me. I am trying to believe that, but it’s not easy every day.

Time flies like an arrow and fruit flies like a banana. This is why I hide myself in my bedroom as soon as I get home. It’s why I do photography. At least when I’m out with a camera I’m doing something instead of thinking. That helps sometimes. Anyway. I’m not dead yet so you’re going to have to out up with for a little while longer.

Here is a selection of photos from last Saturday. Long exposure, shitty weather. I was going for minimalism and maybe a couple of shots I managed it. In some I caught ghost figures due to people not caring and wondering into shot.

Please have a better time of it than me. I’ll get slightly better with a little more time. As I said, I’m not looking for sympathy, or for help. I’m just sharing what is on my mind. Thank the Lord that Adele isn’t singing on the radio…

The Lockdown Diaries Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lockdown Diaries Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoy my efforts.

Passage du Gois, and the Port du Bec

I seem to have this habit of going into Nantes with my camera and using it as an excuse to have some me time, eat cake, and drink tea. Now I’ve been told about how self-care is important but it’s beginning to show around my waist. I think it might be making me lazy as far as photography is concerned too.

So, what to do? Go somewhere else that doesn’t have tea and cake! I also wanted to keep away from towns and cities. Too much familiarity, and I wanted to see if my Canon 6D Mark II still worked. It does. Yipee. And I wanted to set my self the constraint of using just my 50mm F1.8, the famous nifty fifty!

I love my Fujifilm cameras and haven’t switched back or anything but change is good.

It was a beautifully sunny day and just before midday. I got a sandwich at a bakery and headed off towards the coast. The car knows the first part of the way there as it’s the way to work. I passed the factory and gave her a swift hello. It looks so empty without her workers going about their daily duties. Maybe she needs a weekend as much as we do. Anyway…

I arrived at Beauvoir Sur Mer and passed the holiday home of a friend from the band. I didn’t see the car so continued without stopping. I arrived at the Port du Bec, and made my way down towards the boats wondering how those ramshackle wooden jetties can support the weight of a fisherman… Needless to say, I didn’t try to find out. Erring on the side of caution. I may not have the wisdom of an old man, but I’m not daft either. Maybe the beginnings of wisdom are that we know that we know nothing, but that we are too big to go and play silly buggers!

The blue sky was reflected in the sea. It felt great to be alive. The sun really makes a difference after so much rain. And I wasn’t the only one out. Over the bay I could see Noirmoutier in the distance protecting us from ravages of the Atlantic. All was calm. I like calm. I like calm about as much as I do tea and cake. I walked down to the sea and gently walked back towards the car and off to my next destination, the Passage du Gois.

The Passage du Gois is a passage. The clue is in the name… It is the passage between the mainland and the island of Noirmoutier on the Vendée coast. The particularity is that, like Lindesfarne in Northumberland, it is covered by the sea at high tide. However on the Passage du Gois, that tide can roll in faster than a galloping horse at a rather quick gallop.

One of the local spectator sports is watching motorists trying to beat the tide and there is a real danger that they might not make it. That’s what those beacons are for. They actually have a foot race where the runner finish with wet feet!

When the tide is out it’s a different matter all together. I once took a couchsurfer from the US there. We parked on the sand and watched people fishing for shellfish. She’d never seen anything like it in her life!

It felt great and the sea air always does me good. I might just have to go back…

The Port du Bec

The Passage du Gois

Countryside in October


The weather today is officially depressing and even more so because it’s a Monday. I was so annoyed with life that it now is Friday afternoon. 5 days to get to the second sentence is possibly a sign. Of what, I don’t know…

The tree that is in the photo is “my tree” that I pass every day to and from work. I’d taken photos of it on film, and in digital but hadn’t been back to see her for a while. I’ve just checked Instagram and the last photo I took dates from February 2017! It’s as if I had neglected a friend that I had not seen for ages but still pass in the street just exchanging glances and a swift hello.

It was time to remedy the situation. I had left her in black and white, and returned to her in black and white. She didn’t have much to say for herself. Being a tree might have something to do with that, but she was still there. Still covered in ivy. Still with all her branches. Still a part of my workday.

The field of maize was still there. The maize replacing the wheat harvested in Summer. By Tuesday it had been harvested and all you could see in the field were the remains of stalks not over 6 inches high, and yet the day before had been as high as a man. Time goes on and the field will be used to produce a winter crop. Such is the way in the countryside.

Some fields had be let to fallow and recover from growing our food. Nature reclaims them for herself and plants grow up the fence posts and in the ditches by the sides of the road. At least they’ve gone back to green instead of the drier washed out colours of a hot summer.

It’s now Friday afternoon and I was only at work this morning. The sun is out, I’m in a t-shirt, and it’s 19°C. The rain has done its job, and isn’t there to dampen the earth or my mood. When I was a child I imagined the rain being God having a shower. I couldn’t bring myself to think of Him having a wee on creation.

I think He’s out of the bathroom.