Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!

Everything is in the title, to be honest. It’s Boxing Day today, therefore the aftermath of Christmas. I hope you all had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas. I have a cousin whose plans were altered because of COVID. The post on Facebook showed a beautiful London living room decorated for Christmas and you could feel the deception in her writing. Thankfully Covid doesn’t last forever, and this new south African variant seems slightly less menacing than the one from India. Is the old Empire trying to get back at the Mother country for past wrongs?

At the end of each year, we all seem to have this primaeval urge to analyse the year just gone by. With Christmas just finished, you’ll realise this when you watch the news with all the look-backs on 2021. This year has been yet another year that I haven’t seen my parents. All this Covid bollocks is annoying the shit out of me! I haven’t seen them since August 2019, and it’s long. Too long. I’m fortunate enough to still have my parents still alive, and I know that so many people have been left without since this Covid. At first, I tried to joke about it, but it’s not been a joke for quite some time. Our lives have changed in so many ways and we have seen our leaders being completely defenceless against it. Policies have been brought out, each one being even less coherent than the last ones. Boris has been caught out not obeying his own rules and has so much egg on his face that he could prepare an omelette for the entire country. He appears to be finished as people no longer want a posh bawdy wannabe comedian; I mean Prime Minister, lording it over them. In France, it appears to be just as ridiculous, with the Président Macron contradicting himself all the time and just shouting loudly to show that he is “managing” the crisis. People might accuse me of being a tad conspiratorial when I say that this crisis has been used to erode individual freedoms and “track” us even more than before. The one thing however that is not codswallop is the vaccine which I would urge all people to get. “Big pharma” definitely is making millions out of it all, but do we really have a choice in the matter. I don’t really fancy dying just yet and feel that I may still have things left to do in this strange life of mine.

Now that my mini-rant is over, I suppose it is now the moment to tell you all how our Christmas went. This might take some time, so please try to bear with me. It might even be worth the read. As always, I will try to start at the very beginning, which is still a good place to start. ABC and Do Ré Mi etc. Get out of my head Julie Andrews!!

The factory shut its doors on Wednesday at 5pm, and we were freed. No need to come back until the 3rd of January 2022. Might as well go home and try to get into the Christmas spirit, whatever that is. My short-term memory seems to take the mickey yet again. I know I went out with my daughter to Nantes for the day and we ended up in the pub eating fries and having a quiet glass of something with friends and just enjoying being together, which is what pubs are for, after all. The drinks are just a side attraction. I’ve just looked at my phone and it was last Saturday. Thank heavens we have our phones to tell us what we did. Anyway, it was on that evening that I said to my friends that I would try to come along to say hello on Thursday night before they shut for Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Back on track. I sent a text to my wife that since we were both on holiday, then we would go for a drink at the pub, and then attempt vainly to get a table at a restaurant for a nice little something to eat. Full of optimism, I even texted my son to say that since it was going to be -2°C the next morning at 2am when he goes to work, that I would take him in. Strangely enough, he took me up on my offer. So off to work we went, and I asked when the “girlfriend” would come over. That night I was sent out by Madame to do the Christmas food shopping, and take my son to wash his bedding in anticipation of the “girlfriend’s” visit.

Driving to the shops, he let slip that it wasn’t even sure that she’d be there for Christmas. Oh, clucking bell! Red lights just started flashing, and the drama was just beginning. He looked so despondent, and above all didn’t want to “talk about it.” So that was that. I don’t know if bullshit tolerance is at an all-time low because of my age, or that I simply don’t need this shit anymore. My daughter was amazing at helping me with the shopping, and even packing it all away in the car boot. I know she’s at that “difficult” age, so I was just enjoying being a good guy for once, instead of Papa, who just understands nothing! Small mercies, people, small mercies! We picked up my son and his spotless sheets and went home. He would shower and then just go to bed because of his early start the next morning. My daughter had prepared something to eat in the microwave and everything was hunky-dory, even though a little subdued because of the mal-être of my son.

I arrived home and dumped the shopping in the kitchen.  My wife was getting ready for our date night and looked lovely!  We don’t get much time like that so every minute is so special.  I couldn’t get my poor upset son out of my mind.  Well, stop talking about it then.  Well, sorry for being concerned about my son.  But merde, we never go out, and just let them deal with their own shit!  I had been told and remembered that is more important to be kind than right and to choose my battles well.  This was not the time or place.  I kept driving and shut the f up!  Probably a wise decision.  

We arrived at the pub and said hi to people behind the bar and to other people that can be found behind the bar but not tonight.  They’re all friends anyway, and I do enjoy their company but tonight is date night.  I had some vitamin G, and Madame had a Leffe.  The restaurant is just across the street and yes, they had a table for two. You know that funny feeling you get when you kind of recognise the person sitting at the table next to you, but that’s all.  No precise idea.  Little did I know that the lady lived in Newcastle the year after we did, and moved back to France the year before we moved to the Vendée.  It turns out that it was the mother of a young friend that used to work in the pub and whose girlfriend still does.  Definitely a small world.  It also reminded me not to diss the French too much when I talk to my wife in English when out and about.  Or even about and out.  You never know.  I know that the French need to be put right on a wide variety of subjects, but it was still time to be kind and not right again….  Damn you conscience!!!

I was allowed a pint before going home.  Wonders never cease!  I saw the weather for the next day and sent a text to my son telling him it might well be raining at 2am and would he like me to take him to work at 2am.  Again, strangely he took me up on my offer.  I can hear my father telling me what a big softy I am, and my mother telling me that I am too soft.  Ah well…  There goes a day….  Again….

On the way to work, my son seemed slightly better than the previous evening, so I supposed they must have “talked things through.”  I knew that it was a tad early in the morning or in the middle of the night depending on your point of view, but since he was finishing at 11am I could have a lie-in.  Or at least that I what I told myself.  Little did I know that he would phone me at 8am telling me he had finished and could I please pick him up!  Oooh, the little bugger!!  Give me 10 minutes son, and I’ll be on my way…  10 minutes later I was indeed on my way to get him.  However, it was his turn to be nice to his old man.  I didn’t care if he was going to see his girlfriend for Breakfast, he was going to help me finish the Christmas shopping in the market in Clisson.  He carried everything back to the car for me.  Bless his little cotton socks. 

So this all sets the scene for Christmas Eve.  Virginie, bless her, would tidy the downstairs part of the house, whilst I would take Kate to Nantes, and eventually find some stocking fillers for the children. I would then be in the kitchen preparing the Christmas meal.  Boeuf Bourgignon, from a vintage recipe by a certain Constance Spry.  Those who know will just know!  I was busy as a little beaver, ok, let’s be serious for one moment, a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver.  I am always wary of skinny people who cook…

Everyone was there.  Well, my wife had spent time preparing the salmon, fake caviar, and foie gras.  The “girlfriend” was taking photos with her new camera and a rather snazzy lens.  Everything is always fine when we just talk about photography.  My daughter, or so it would seem, decided that she no longer wished to have her photo taken.  I know this is a cue for me to put my camera down and change subjects.  The “girlfriend” however, did not.  Oh, bugger.  Here we go again.  The shit storm had just been let loose and words were said and things just got shouty all of a sudden.  

I had an “Oh bollocks!” moment.  We had a situation Houston.  I had a screaming 12-year-old in the living room, two very young adults in my son’s rooms arguing about how Kate had been mean.  Female violence is not like male violence.  Men will just kick several tons of crap out of each other, and then go and have a beer and get over it.  It would appear that this isn’t the same approach with ladies, where one will talk about an unclean hob, and what happened to her brother.  I know it was low, but don’t go down that road.  It’s not good.  So my wife came down and asked what the hell was going on, and I had been in the kitchen creating culinary miracles so I only had second hand and possibly biased information.  

Situation report for everyone.  One 12 year old in her room feeling shitty for having ruined Christmas, two you adults arguing in their room, over analysing everything and getting everything wrong.  One furious wife, and how dare they ruin her bloody fucking Christmas, and they had bloody well get a fucking move on downstairs because everything was ready.  At the precise moment I was wanting to put on body armour, and a helmet and take cover.  I would have been quite happy to go and take cover in my own room and sod the food.  A cheese sandwich would have been fine, we could always eat the stuff on Christmas Day!  

It is better to be kind and not right, and it was time for a cheese sandwich however appealing it might seem at that very moment.  Who could imagine that some cream cheese on one slice of bread, Branston pickle on another slice of bread, and a couple of slices of mature cheddar, could make a rather large, middle-aged, and ever so slightly rotund beaver, rather happy and forget WW3 that was starting.  The children were told how furious my wife was and how they had better bloody well come downstairs this bloody instant.  The “girlfriend” said she was going to see her mother.  Oh clucking bell, here we go again but assured us that she would be back soon.  I took cover on the sofa, and eventually, the “girlfriend” came back, and my daughter had remembered how it had been decided that presents would be opened at the apréro.  The daughter went to tell the lovebirds that it was time to come down for the presents.  Two attempts were needed but her peacekeeping skills were amazing.  Five people around my table were no longer wanted to kill each other, but open presents.  Peace had come back to the proceeding.  Our own little Christmas miracle.

The youngsters spent Christmas Day with her family, and therefore not my problem anymore.  My daughter stayed with us.  I sent a text message to our neighbour asking if she wanted to come round for tea, or drinks.  Seeing what time it was I knew it would be drinks.  Ah well.  Into the breach once again!  It was nice.  I was calm.  I spoke to my parents who indeed told me how soft I am with that lad, and how Christmas can lead to a little drama.  I think that I am not a fan of drama. 

La Rentrée 2021

My Dear Reader, welcome to yet another article where I will try to find something interesting or witty to tell you.  I have neglected you over August, but as most French people do, I closed shop and was on holiday.  Since Covid and the world going base over apex, my company has decided that we only need three weeks’ holiday in August compared to the more traditional four weeks.  I am about to sing the praises of my wife, so for those of you who hate the luvvy-duvvy side of things, turn away now.  I take it you have all turned away.  

For the first ten days of my holidays, I was camping in my living room. My wife and I literally carried our bed downstairs and set up camp.  That was the less agreeable part of those first ten days.  However, my wife had decided to decorate our bedroom and change all the furniture and replace it with nice new furniture from the infamous Swedish flat-pack place that we all know.  I have a love-hate relationship with flat packs.  Firstly, they’re heavy and hardly fit into the car without all the seats down and your wife in the back of the car telling you how to drive, you bloody moron!  Secondly, they take up an awful amount of space in the garage whilst your wife gets to grips with decorating the room.  Painting the ceiling, putting up wallpaper you agreed to ages ago because it’s easier and you love avoiding conflict.  You don’t sleep well because everything feels strange in the living room and it’s hot too.  Thirdly, they have to be taken upstairs to be put together and there’s always something missing, and you know it’s going to be your fault, you useless fool!  

Anyway, with the help of friends, my son, and a mad screaming bitch, sorry, wife, we now have a haven of peace.  We not only have a haven of peace, but fitted wardrobes that took three days to put together, but look great, and I have a cabinet for all my photography gear and, most importantly, a desk.  

She is a champion, and let me assure you all, she has become human again!  It has been a life-changer.  

During the pre-let’s get this done otherwise I’ll go mad, clear out, we found some films that needed to be developed.  You do not know what might lurk on those reels of film, but you tell yourself that you must have taken them, so it shouldn’t be too bad.  I took in 9 rolls of film in.  I was told by the amiable lady that if any of them hadn’t been exposed that there would be no charge for the development.   Seems fair.

I returned to get the films and the contact sheets.  That still sweet lady told me I would be in for a surprise!  She was right.  I looked through the sheets of paper and saw images of my son, who was still a toddler, and having baths, and being dried by his mother and his godmother.  It took me right back to the end of the last century!  My beard was in colour in those days!

Encouraged by all this photographic success, I went out and took even more photos.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Instagram you will have seen the stories and saw the cameras for the day: the Mamiya C220, and the Pentax ME Super, which were both gifts from a former teacher, and now a friend of mine!  Merci Mr McM!  

I do like taking photos and using cameras.  There’s something I don’t think you knew!!  It was good to be back out.  I am now double jabbed. Thank you to that lovely lady at the chemists who reassured me and said that I wasn’t the only guy in the world that has a phobia of injections.  Not only am I double jabbed, but I also have my Covid Passport, so I can go to the pub again without having part of my brain scraped out by a nurse with a long plastic thingy!  I have rejoined the general population.  

If you’re wondering what the French title of this article is doing there, let me explain.  Quickly though, I’m already at 750 words here.  The Rentrée is the re-entry into normal daily life after the summer holidays where people just weren’t there.  The children go back to school.  Those of use in employment, go back to that employment.  Our extracurricular activities start again.  Last night was my first wind band rehearsal in over a year (thank you, COVID), and it feels as if some relative normality has come back into my life.  

Back to the photos.  I shot the square photos on the Mamiya C220, using Ilford HP5+ film shot at box speed, developed in Ilfosol 3, and I took the other photos on the Pentax ME Super, using Fomapan 100 film developed in the same chemistry.  Fine grain with the Fomapan and not something I’m used to, but a change is good, right? Oh, and I took them at the Hangar à Bananes, and HAB Gallerie in Nantes.

My wife…

Not much text today. I’m just going to let the photos speak for themselves. My wife posing for me, using the Canon 6d Mark ii, 50mm F1.8 lens, and natural light coming through my bedroom window.

KISS. Keep it Simple Stupid! Slowly becoming my new ethos…

My wife. Again…

Let me re-introduce my wife to you again. The sweet loving woman, who has been my long suffering companion, and my love, for more than 25 years, and 20 of those years married to me. She is also the only woman who could put up with me for that long too. But, when asked in front of witnesses, the Mayor, and then God, she said I do… Which means that she can’t take me back for a refund, and that she’s stuck with me. Ah les folies de jeunesse, or in English, she put a ring on it, and now it’s too late.

Anway. I’ve been trying to learn some technique to do some portrait photography, and needed a willing victim, I mean model. I found one just laying on the sofa doing some crochet , and thought you’ll have to do, and she did do! We had quite a laugh whilst doing it too!

Yes, she was a very good sport about the whole thing! She even looks as if she’s having fun. But please, don’t ever cross her, or she turns into this psycho monster. I once tried peeing standing up. That was 27 years ago. I learnt my lesson well!

Other misdemeanours include, just being in the way, breathing, speaking when she hasn’t finished telling me something, snoring, farting in bed, lifting the covers up to share, apparently sharing is caring doesn’t apply in this case, taking up too much space in bed and making her sleep on the very edge of the mattress, not leaving the toilet seat down, not shutting the door, fridge, or my mouth, not cooking, cooking when the food should already be on the table, taking too long to cook, not leaving her alone, and then leaving her alone, using the phone to talk her when we’re in the same house, and many others I’m sure. You see dear reader, we’re a perfectly ordinary couple…

But, and this is a big but, and I cannot lie, you other brothers can’t deny, hang on, that sounds familiar… I can still make her laugh, and that’s not bad. Either that or she’s far too polite to tell me that my jokes are crap…

Anyway!

The tools of the trade that day were the Canon 6D Mark II, Canon 85mm F1.8 lens, a reflector, and my panama hat.

My Wife…

I don’t usually think of myself as a portrait photographer, but I do take photos of my wife and children for family albums. I have a Helios M44-2 58mm which is a dedicated portrait lens and found a willing victim…

I say victim but she did say “yes” all that time ago. She usually hates my photos of her… No, she hates all photos of her, but here are some that said were Ok, which is praise indeed!

The Helios lens is a bokeh beast and is a wonderful focal length for portraits. I manage to use it with the Canon 6d Mark II with an conversion ring. It’s like having the best of both worlds… Digital and analogue.