Monday, 24 February 2014

All Too Much

It was all too much!
Not for me - I was enjoying every sun-drenched-Saturday-morning-moment of it.
No, sadly it was too much for my trusty photographer's assistant. Approaching thirteen years old now, she has noticeably slowed down, and particularly so since October when she started to tell us when she had had enough, rather than us calling time on the walks.
It is sad, as having such a wonderful companion for both indoors and particularly outdoors, has provided opportunities to explore our locality in depth and to develop a love and appreciation of the nature and wildlife in special places.

No more so than this particular corner of North Essex, where the gentle undulations of this cosy countryside meet the flat fens of Cambridgeshire. From this part of the Icknield Way, it is possible to see as far as Ely on a clear day.
Despite the sunshine on Saturday, the light was only good enough to pick out features in Cambridge and thereabouts, with the dishes of the Mullard Observatory highlighted in the distant landscape.

Many hours have I sat on the edges of the fields, surrounded by deer-filled woodland, and many times have I blogged and more recently, tweeted about the seasonal changes which I observe here. For me the place and the natural progress of the year are always magical.
As I sat quietly on Saturday, I listened to a whole range of bird song - blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits - I even thought I heard the 'little bit of bread' of the yellow hammer but the 'no cheese' seemed to be absent. Woodpeckers drummed and crows cawed - this wonderful symphony of birdsong broken only by the unwelcome roar of the big metal birds moving in and out of the nearby busy airport.
These roaring interludes though, were the perfect time to look more closely around me, spotting the first tiny flashes of glorious blue beaming up from the speedwell.

Despite the sunshine, it was still very much a 'wellie-walk' with mutt up to her usual bubble-patting in the puddles, the swirling patterns of disturbed silt highlighted in her wake.

Upon reaching the old farm bath houses (and boy, could mutt have done with the use of one by this stage!), the sun had reached its apex. The carpet of ageing snowdrops still adding a glorious intensity to the light around the derelict buildings. Rare of late, the shafts of sunlight reached in through the broken windows, the frames casting crisp dark shadows on the walls.

On the window sill, the relics of a once useful facility had morphed into a snail-like reminder of the change of pace in this wooded corner of the farm yard.

Who knows what tales the peeling walls could tell if only they could speak?

And as for my favourite resident farm yard ladies, well, a hello had to be made to them too before we set off on the return leg of this gentle three-hour stroll in the sunny countryside, arriving back home just in time for our lunch.

Mutt took to her bed as soon as we arrived home, and slept for hours. Not unusual, except when she did emerge from her sunny sleeping place, it was clear that her front right leg was giving her trouble again. I say again, as a similar action was made after a long walk during our visit to the Cotswolds a couple of weeks back. On that occasion though, she was up and bouncy by the next morning. Sadly, we are now into day three of hop-along-mutt and clearly recovery is going to take much longer now that she is mature in years - and at nearly 90 years old in our terms, it is hardly surprising!

I would like my assistant to be able to come along with me for a good while yet as we have shared many happy hours together, exploring the the nooks and crannies of this, very definitely not TOWIE corner of the county.
For now though it will have to be just a small amble around the block for the fresh air, and it certainly isn't too much for us to give her lots of rest and TLC.

Post script 28.2.14

After a few days of her making no fuss, we eventually got to the reason for mutts lameness...

This thorn had gone straight in, leaving no obvious mark.
Despite checking her pads on several occasions it was only the swelling and weeping that eventually alerted us to the problem.

Fingers crossed now that she is on the mend.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Victim of the Storms

For one reason or another I hadn't taken mutt for a walk in our local park since Thursday last week, and so I had quite a surprise when I set foot through the gate again yesterday. Between the two visits, we had had yet another of the 'confused' Gulf Stream storms, this one striking during the early hours of Saturday morning.
Where once a majestic beech tree had stood guard over the emerging Lords and Ladies around its base, there was instead a wind-cleared vista over scraped bare earth.
The Peyps Walk tree had become a victim of the storms.

The clear-up process was well under way by yesterday but it was obvious there was more to why this naturally shallow-rooted beech had succumbed.

It wouldn't take a genius to work out that the tree had been suffering with disease, and having chatted to the estate workers, it appears this towering 100 year-old had already been given the green spot of condemnation. Sad as it is, these things happen when specimens get to the end of their life. However, even during the lying in state, it was able to put on one last unusual display.

Each severed limb revealed a beautiful design, as if it had been tattooed, and with every one different.
Ink blot interpretation of these disease stains was about to come into play.

Could it be a pansy?... A butterfly?...

...wait a minute, is this possibly the face of a bulldog?

...and this, a border collie pup?

Whatever your interpretation, what I actually see is a changing landscape and the prospect of a new sapling filling the gap.

It isn't always bad.

Monday, 17 February 2014

National Nest Box Week

With a brief respite from the appalling weather this weekend, many of us managed to get back out into our soggy gardens, albeit for just a few pleasant hours. Prompted by a friend who mentioned he had cleaned out the nest boxes in his garden, it reminded me I really ought to get around to re-installing a special nest box which had been sitting on a shelf for the past five years. It had been brought from a relatives home when they moved as it was too special to leave behind. I may have mentioned this box before as it is no ordinary nest box. This is a box with a birds-eye view - well, sort of. This box has an internal camera fitted and so any bird taking up residence isn't allowed to be camera-shy.

It was possibly the logistics of the cable run which delayed the setting up of this potentially absorbing piece of kit. However, after five years of thinking about it, the route indoors has become quite obvious and with just enough cable to spare, the connectors are now ready to be plugged into a monitor, situated in the warmth of the house. With a few minor adjustments to the set up, we should be up and running to watch out for the first couple to take up residence - hopefully very soon.

I have written about this today as we are currently in the middle of National Bird Box Week which began on Valentines Day, the day when it is traditionally said the birds start pairing. Certainly it is around now that the blue tits start investigating suitable nest sites and so I hope we may be able to follow a family of blue tits if they choose this as their new home. If these little beauties don't like what is on offer, then maybe another year we will open up the front of the box, which will be an invite to another garden favourite, the robin. It is surprising how birds can be quite choosy when it comes to setting up home. Just a couple of years ago, a blue tit decided to take up residence in this upturned water hopper - not a good move when rain can come straight in through the front door! Needless to say, the nest was abandoned before too long, probably helped along by a visit from the local feline patrol, who sadly are the usual avian bailiffs in our garden.

Whatever, if I do get any interest in this 'CBB' studio nest box I will be certain to keep you updated. In the meantime, it isn't too late for you to go and put up a nest box or two!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Stroud Farmers' Market

Window of Cornflower & Calico

Unlike our first visit to Glasgow the other week, Stroud in Gloucestershire is a place we have been to many times and also have a connection with, as both friends and family live in this hilly town on the edge of the Cotswolds. It had dawned on us recently, that several years had whizzed by since out last visit, so a timely invite from our old college friends was a welcome reason to make a weekend break of it.

It is always a culinary delight when visiting these particular friends, as the lady of the house has the ability to rustle up the most amazing meals in front of our eyes with what appears to be the absolute minimum of effort. As we sat catching up on the past few years, eggs benedict, on a bed of chard fresh picked from the allotment, was produced from scratch, and just as a lunch-time snack. Delicious! So it comes as no surprise that our friends are also huge fans of the multi-award winning Stroud Farmers' Market that takes place each Saturday in the streets surrounding Cornhill Market Place.

It was a bitterly cold wind that whooshed us down the steep hill into the town, with the two men making straight for the calorie-laden Pippin Doughnuts stall, (oh, if only!) followed by an interested mooch towards the Artisan Baker, where I was delighted to find (one) gluten-free loaf available.
"The rest have already been snapped up this morning" said the girl.
This must surely say something?!

Following this gluten free discovery, I made it my quest to see what else I could find. Funky Falafel clearly advertised their gluten-free products, and the Hinton Marsh Farm had gluten-free sausages.
"Only the plain GF ones today. Usually we rotate all the other flavours in turn"
I took a pack of the plain ones and having had them for tea last night, I can say they were truly delicious.

For the non-meat eaters there were plenty of wonderful vegetables available... well as vegetarian options, often doubling with dairy-free and gluten-free.
As the men were indulging in the calorie laden doughnuts and cheeses, I was opting for these comparatively healthy and interesting gluten-free options, with products from both the Veggie Deli and Saira's South Asian Savouries having passed the 'ok for me' test!

Back to the off-limits but delicious looking home made pork pies from the Stowe Herd Farm (oh, if only!)...

...and a colourful array of local vegetables from Duncan Paget & Co...

...and hidden away at Hobbs House Bakery, these happy little chaps!

On a morning where sharp rain showers punctuated the sunshine and the bitter wind whipped the awning covers into the faces of the passing shoppers, it certainly didn't seem to deter the masses coming out to visit this veritable congregation of culinary delights (and indeed, other products too). For those of us with dietary requirements, I'm pleased to say there was plenty of choice here, which is reassuring to see.

With our bulging bags wafting their delicious aromas, we began the long climb back up the steep hill, stopping off along the way for a reviving cuppa in front of the fire at the Bisley House Bar.
What a delightful way of spending a Saturday morning.

(Thanks to all for allowing me to take photos)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

As you asked respectfully...

- "You took some superb photos of the puppets made by the gaelscoil pupils for last year's St. Patricks Day parade.
I am currently updating the school's website and I would love to include a few of your photos, with your permission."

- "I was wondering if I could cheekily ask to use one of your photos of the vintage bikes on the A422 on the site. ( I will of course tag it with your name)"

As photographers, there is always the possibility of our images wanting to be used somewhere and nine times out of ten that is perfectly ok, and so I am usually more that delighted to agree on the appropriate arrangements on their usage.

So what a joy it was to be respectfully approached by two organisations recently, who wanted to use some of my images.
The first being the Gaelscoil in Skibbereen, who had spotted the post I had made following the St Patrick's Day Parade last year, and had passed comment on more than one occasion, on how much they liked the images. I have to say that in return, I was seriously impressed with their superb puppets, which in my view, stood out head and shoulders above the rest of the parade participants, in the true sense of the term!

The second being Ride the County an organisation in Oxfordshire who are planning a charity motorbike ride on the 17th May, around the county roads in aid of their local Air Ambulance. As regular blog readers will know, I have an indirect involvement with motorbikes, and in common with all motorcyclists, fully appreciate the work of all the Air Ambulance services. I was more than pleased for my image to be used in association with this event (albeit the website template doing an odd crop to the image!)

In both of these recent requests, the appropriate links and credits have been made, which is the minimum gesture that anyone would like to expect.
Sadly there is another face to our images being used, and that is when they are lifted straight from our websites or blogs without any form of polite request. We all know this can, and does happen and this is the risk we take when publicly 'advertising our product'. However, it is when we discover blatant usage without permissions, credits and payments, or at worst, wholly inappropriate usage, that the profession naturally becomes agitated.

The long and the short of it is, a simple bit of respect can go an awful long way.

Good luck to the Gael Scoil with your preparations for St Patrick's day this year - I'm just sorry I won't be around to see your stunning work.

Good luck to Ride the County in that you raise a splendid sum for the Air Ambulance - and thanks for asking if we would like to take part too. Sadly we have other arrangements on that day.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Things are Changing...

Just like this Southern Hawker nymph, which takes up to four years to emerge into a full blown dragonfly, it could be said that I too have been in a nymph stage for the past four years.

During those years, I have skulked around relatively unseen in the hidden depths of the creative pond but all the time I have been getting bigger, stronger and more confident.

Back in 2010 when that creative egg was laid, I was unsure whether the final metamorphosis would be as a graphic designer, (in which I graduated from Cambridge School of Art) or photographer (which has been my passion through all my life and always found its way to be incorporated into studies). I hedged my bets and began the development as both Ailec Designs and Ailec Photography.

And I'm guessing some of you are asking what is with the 'Ailec' name?
It is simple really. Just read it backwards!
Yes, ever since I was at school, Ailec was something I applied to pretty much all of my creative endeavours, so it was only natural that I stuck with it, in particular for my design work, where a 'cool' name is common place rather than just plain old Joe Bloggs. However, I began to come unstuck in relation to the photographic work, which was becoming increasingly more prevalent than the design commissions. Unlike the design world, it is generally accepted that photographers work under their own name, and whilst it was my name, of sorts, many seem to have had trouble pronouncing and spelling the name, even if it is nice and short.

After a great deal of soul searching and asking those around, the conclusion was drawn that now is the time I should stop skulking behind a name and emerge as straight and honest...

Celia Bartlett Photography

I know there will be those who already see Ailec Photography as a brand, and ask why it should change but the Ailec heritage won't disappear completely. Whilst you may already note some changes to this blog, (with a few more happening over the coming couple of weeks) not all of it will change. I am retaining my icon, albeit in a 'moving forward' direction and indeed, my twitter name will have to stay as @ailecphoto however, a smart new website WILL be coming very soon. I know it has been promised for quite a while now, but I have been going through those pre-emerging skin moults and you might be pleased to hear that I have definitely reached the last one now.

So look out! The dragonfly is about to emerge in all its glory,