Wednesday 29 May 2013

...but turn off your Flash

Those were the words uttered to us by the usher as we were shown to our seats at the Royal Albert Hall last night. We were there to see Mark Knopfler on his current Privateering Tour, and as we have seen Mark on pretty much all of his tours in recent years, we were familiar with his policy on photography. In fact, in previous years, the rule was a categorical 'no photography' policy. Clearly exceptionally hard to police and with the dramatic changes in photographic devices over the years, it seemed that on this tour, it had influenced a change in policy to:

"Please note that Mark Knopfler has no objection to fans bringing into the show cameras and personal recording equipment to record the show, providing such photographs/recordings are for private use only and these activities do not interfere with the enjoyment of other fans.
, including digital cameras, can be used by fans to take photos of the show, provided it is for personal use and non-professional purposes. Any camera with removable lenses are not permitted."

We were going to this event on a purely 'to enjoy' basis and I, and no doubt many other gig-goers were delighted to see a relaxation in the photography policy although I still had that gut niggle about one thing.


Yes, it is the age-old problem of people:
1. Not understanding the request of 'no flash'
2. Not knowing the principles of photography ie flash is only of use in the right circumstances (and this isn't it!)
3. Not simply knowing HOW to turn a flash OFF.

As you probably already know, I prefer not to use flash as a rule anyway and in this type of music / theatre photography, just never. Apart from it being ineffective from such a distance, it is also highly distracting to the performers and irritating to both the performers and other members of the audience. (For that matter, the little focusing beams are irritating too)

And so it was, all evening, those little tell-tale statements of
"Look at me! I'm taking another photograph and... *flash* oops!
from various corners of the hall.

I suppose, just as people forget to turn off their mobile rings, the flash syndrome will never go away completely either.

So, rant over, how was the evening?

Brilliant as always! He is a true musician and performer, plays with passion and he and the whole band always show how much they are enjoying themselves. Many's the time I have been to a gig and have been lucky to have about an hour of the headline act after one or two mediocre support acts. Not with Mark Knopfler. In fact it is only the past two tours that he has had a support act at all, normally choosing to be the only act of the evening. This time though, he had a young Canadian, Ruth Moody as his support. A good choice for two reasons, one, she was good - none of the 'when will this finish' feeling, two, she actually performed on some of the tracks from the Privateering album.

Following the support, Mark came on stage at around 8.30 and the last applause from the standing ovation was heard at 11pm. Two-and-a-half hours of pure music, both new, past, and from the Dire Straits days.

Guitar changes were frequent with all of the iconic instruments taking a turn on stage, and boy, can the man play?!!!

Sadly, the evening was gone in a flash, and so until the next tour...

Oh, and the camera? My little G12 of course.

Monday 27 May 2013

We met in De Barras...

...I didn't know his name then, but I first met Sean back in the Spring of 2012. I also didn't know then how Sean was to play an important role in my family happenings. Sean had separately captured the attention of both myself and my youngest when we met him. He had a character, a warmth and was unforgettable. We discovered that Sean and Anja were inseparable and still, we wanted him.

So what was this desire all about?

It was actually all to do with a harp.

Yes, Sean is a harp. A harp which has travelled thousands of miles but that is another amazing story, and it is the fingers of Anja Bakker which draw out the character and warmth from Sean's strings which both me and my youngest had heard and remembered.

When our daughter had announced back last year, that she wanted a harp to be played at her wedding, it was surely fate that led us to recall hearing the same harp being played in De Barras in Clonakilty. Having done a shoot at the trad night early last year, I remembered taking a picture of a musician with a harp. Our daughter had visited De Barras later in the year and also remembered a harp being played. When I showed her the picture, a huge smile came across her face, and I knew what had to be done.

So, I set to and contacted 'your man in the corner' Denis to ask if the harpist might be up for playing at a wedding in England. Needless to say, we were delighted to find out that Anja would be happy to oblige and there began the planning.

The first major obstacle would be to find out if the regular 'low fares airline' would transport a harp. (Sean is an old hand at travelling so I had no worries about his transportability) Simply by purchasing a second ticket in the name of
'Ms Extra Item Seat', Sean would be able to have a holdless journey, and that is exactly what he did.

And so, as some of you might already know, the wedding took place back in April with Anja and Sean both playing a special part in the special day. All I can say is that they were amazing and captured the attention of a whole new crowd of admirers.

Thank you so much Anja and Sean.

Now, back last Monday night, me and himself were once again squeezed into the gloomy, snug bar of De Barras for an evening with the trad night regulars, Denis, Tommy, Gerry, Cathal and of course Anja.

As I have mentioned before, lighting for photography in De Barras is exceedingly tricky (flash-free), even with a fast lens but I love the soft grainy quality of the high ISO images.

I thought I would spend the evening listening to the regulars, enjoying some of the old favourites. Monday night was the request night for the 'Mermaid Song' ...if you want to know what it is about, you will have to go and hear Cornelius perform it for yourself!

Meanwhile, I thought I would just take a few photographs and listen to the guest musicians perform their own special little numbers. Let's just say, some of the verses brought a smile and a chuckle. However, Monday was also a bit different as I had the 'fan club' with me in the form of himself who insisted on a repeat performance of the only suitable song I currently have in my repertoire. (He had not been there on the night I performed the premiere!) Yes, I had to put my camera down and 'do my turn' with Spancil Hill. Gulp! Apart from that premiere, I hadn't sung in public for over twenty years, and I was pleased that I didn't appear to clear the bar!! So, with two performances under my belt, I now have to learn a new song... and himself has been told he has to learn one too. This could be interesting for he who can't sing.

Still, it is all in the spirit of the evening, and it can be the participation and little touches that can make the impression.

So, there you are. Perhaps you feel you have met the Monday night face of De Barras now, one of several in which this snug yet happening West Cork venue excels.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Late May

Greater Stitchwort Stellaria holostea

We have all been aware of the completely barmy weather, wildlife and nature problems of late, and we are all fed up with guessing when Spring might turn up. Well, this morning I made the most of a beautiful morning, taking mutt for a walk in my favourite woods. Clearly we brought the good weather back with us from West Cork, and I'm not complaining!

I happily listened to the songs of the Chiff-chaff and Blackcap, punctuated by the 'keee' of the Buzzard up above, whilst down below, I marvelled in the creamy waist-high lace of the Cow Parsley surrounding me like a skirt as I walked through the deer paths. The Bluebells, although now fading, still gave a blue haze through this vegetative lace, lit by the dappled sunlight through the fresh green leaves.

The beauty of this English woodland walk compared with the beauty of a West Cork coastal walk, although different in feel, are both equal in my mind and I enjoy them in their turn. However, today I noted clear signs of this seasonal madness we have been enduring.

The fields of rape have germinated poorly, and where left to grow rather than being ploughed in as a bad crop, have flowered a whole month later than the last few years.

The Hawthorn Crategus monogyna is in most parts, struggling to live up to it's name as 'May blossom'. Buds are still tight and are notable by their absence in general.

Even the ever-hardy Common Nettle Urtica dioica appears to drooping under the strain.

However, there were still glimmers of delight when I looked a little closer.

The intense blue of the tiny flowers of the Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys punctuated the green of the path verge.

The vivid pink heads of the slightly mis-named Red Campion Silene dioica popped above the swaying grass.

But the best secret, hidden away in the mixed vegetation of the meadow corner, were the darkly spotted leaves of a beauty yet to flower. The Common Spotted Orchid Dactylorhiza fuchsii.

I will certainly be back to catch these in flower, although who knows whether they will be on time, or late just as many flowers currently are. Still, that doesn't matter to me, as it means all the more reason to go back to my favourite woods, and I'm sure mutt won't mind either.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Daily Views

Day 1. The Fairy Tree, Hill of Tara, Co Meath

Here is the round up of the daily views which I posted online, during our recent trip to Ireland. The weather was far kinder in West Cork than we ever could have hoped for. In fact, the weather we left behind in the UK was by all accounts, pretty awful, but then that's the way it should be for holidays, isn't it?

First we took a quick detour into Co Meath before making the long trip down to Co Cork.

(Note, by clicking on the first image, all 12 images will appear as a slideshow and are of a better image quality)

Day 2. West Cork

Day 3

Day 4. Long Strand, West Cork

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7. Lough Hyne, West Cork

Day 8

Day 9. Sundown over the Fastnet at the far South-West corner of Ireland

Day 10, Toe Head, West Cork

Day 11. Rineen Woods, West Cork

Day 12. Glandore, West Cork
And what a last day it was!

...Until the next time

Thursday 16 May 2013


Now, if you'd have asked me five years ago what gluten was, I wouldn't really have had much of an idea. The nearest I would have got would be an adjective:-

glutinous adjective  Like glue in texture; sticky

and then I wouldn't really have been sure where it came from. However, ask me now what gluten is and I can tell you what it is, and more.

gluten mass noun  A mixture of two proteins in cereal grains, especially wheat, which is responsible for the elastic texture of dough

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye has come to control my way of life in the last few years. I didn't want it to but it has been essential for my general well-being. It all began when I started to lose weight, and those that know me also know that this is something I definitely don't need to do! I would also suffer badly after eating my favourite bread from our local baker and will spare you the details but lets just say there was a little room in the house that I became intimately acquainted with!

I hadn't appreciated how, over a period of time, my diet had been affecting my health, until one morning, the one closest to me had again found me shut away in the little room, crippled up in agony and drained of all colour. He had just returned from a business meeting where he had met an old neighbour of ours and who also happened to be a nutritionist. Having already been dismissed by the medical profession with the all too common coverall of IBS, it seemed this was a 'nothing ventured' desperation option.

Over the following few weeks, I went on the exclusion diet, dropping all wheat containing products for a period before re-introducing them, then repeating this for barley, rye and also oats. The overall result was quite amazing. each time I reintroduced wheat, barley and rye, the offending product would trigger a reaction, oats, fortunately didn't. Armed with this information, I returned to a sympathetic GP who understood my desire to get to the bottom of this (excuse the pun). By now of course, I had read around the subject of gluten and realised that there were two things it could be - gluten intolerance or coeliac disease. Determining which one would also determine how I would live my life ahead.

To cut a long story short, I went through a period of feeling very uncomfortable whilst once more eating all of the gluten containing foods, essential for the medical test that were ahead of me. I had blood tests, tests with tubes from all directions and biopsies. All very unpleasant but tolerable when knowing that this should determine the cause of all my symptoms, of which there were many, now looking back on it.

Finally came the best result I could have hoped for. I didn't have coeliac disease.

For those with coeliac disease, it is essential to avoid all gluten containing foods as even the smallest breadcrumb for those most sensitive, can be critical with this immune disease. For those who do have this disease, I have every sympathy as my diet is now very similar to that which coeliacs must follow. However, as a gluten intolerant, I don't have the associated issues should I accidentally be 'glutened'. I just feel rough for a while but know that it won't have done any lasting damage.
Some of the gluten-free options available today

So, what has being diagnosed as gluten intolerant meant for me? Well, firstly and most importantly, I have isolated what was making me feel so ill (weight loss, assorted gastric issues, lethargy, non-age related night sweats, mouth ulcers, aching joints, headaches, momentary dizziness... and so it went on). It was...


Since cutting it out of my diet in a controlled and monitored fashion (I had dietary guidance from the hospital, and shouldn't be something to tackle alone) I have felt so, so much better.

On the down side, I have had to cut out most of the food group that were my favourites, cakes, biscuits, breads, puddings etc. It was so incredibly hard in the early days, to the extent I frequently found myself in tears in the supermarket whilst walking down the cake aisle during the shop for the rest of the family, and upset when yet another food was found to contain gluten. 
Thankfully, the choice within the (highly expensive) gluten free ranges has increased dramatically over the last couple of years that I don't feel so 'left out' any more but it comes at a price and not just in pennies, these foods can sometimes be higher in fats and sugars to compensate on flavour. 

In the early days, the rest of the family would roll their eyes when eating out as I would inevitably ask the question "Is this gluten free?" to which I would get mixed responses from the establishments. Mostly it would be, "What?" and they clearly didn't have a clue which food group was involved. Occasionally it would be,"Yes we can cater for you!" and equated to removing the bread roll from the plate and replacing with... nothing.
'Can you not see, I'm on a special diet not a weight loss diet!!!'
(To those who are contemplating a gluten-free diet just as a (current fad) method of losing weight - don't!!) Oh, and our idea of a gluten-free dessert is not endless supplies of fruit salad. Worthy and lovely as it is, there are so many tempting alternatives that can be offered... please? I have yet to find an establishment where I have had a good choice of food, where they have fully understood and I haven't had to explain or ask questions... but it is getting better. Education is the key.

I have also blogged about gluten-free food having found that it is possible to cook my own tasty alternatives:
Christmas Cake
Rhubarb Cake

So why now? Why have I recounted my story now?
This week is Coeliac Awareness week and I take an empathetic stance in raising awareness of this disease which affects 1% of the population.
I am fortunate that I have gluten intolerance.
Also, another member of my family has just presented with the same gluten intolerance during the time of final university exams and thankfully is now much better as a result of following the gluten-free diet. It begs the question, why me, why my offspring and why so many people in general are finding themselves falling-out with gluten, something that has been part of all of our diets for centuries?

In my opinion (and it should not be taken as medical evidence) there are several factors.
- A trigger - historical gastric illness plus stress.
- A family disposition - in hindsight my maternal grandfather presented with symptoms.
- An increase in consumption of food groups - Cereals, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, puddings etc in one day.
- Antibiotics - an increase in the use of these valuable medicines may have caused a change to our gut linings.
- Plant breeding - in the quest for high yielding grains, the gluten content has increased. 

What I do feel, is that there should be a review, indeed a quite urgent review, of why so many of the population are suddenly finding they are gluten intolerant. This review should be carried out by the medical profession, the plant-breeding / farming communities and also food manufacturers, who need to realise that there is no need to include 'hidden' doses of gluten in their food products - there are alternatives.

Thankfully, in Ireland, where I am currently on holiday, there is a greater awareness of the need for gluten-free food, due to the higher incidence of coeliac disease amongst the Irish population. This means that there are far more food products available and whilst in general, I have moved my family away from processed foods, there is one food group that can't be left out when it comes to a full cooked Irish Breakfast...

...sausages and black / white pudding ...just as a treat of course!

Wednesday 8 May 2013

A New Fox

Earlier this year I was delighted to catch up again with this young actor who is now newly emerged onto the scene. It was great to spend a few hours on this shoot in a wonderful tucked-away location, whilst he chatted about what he has been up to over the past few years and what he has planned for the future.

With his television debut earlier this year and a place in the Edinbugh Fringe this summer, he has a bright future ahead of him.

...not to mention the help he will have from those blue eyes!

He's certainly one to chart progress with, and I will update you where I can.

So, watch out, there's a new Fox on the acting patch.
...and don't forget, you saw him here first!

Thank you jdyf

Saturday 4 May 2013

Turn the Page

'1 - 100' Artistbooks

Last year I toddled off to Norwich for the first 'Turn the Page' artists book fair. An inspirational exhibition for those of us who love book arts.
Today I toddled off to Norwich again for 'Turn the Page' 2013 (hard to believe where that year has gone!)
Accompanied this year by a good friend, with whom I had studied at Post Graduate level at LCC, we were excited to see what was happening in the world of Book Arts, having both digressed back to our respective disciplines of photography and illustration

Mentioning Book Arts to most people, I am usually met with a blank stare. Mention bookbinding, and most will have something similar to this in mind. It goes without saying that all book artists will either have embraced traditional bookbinding within the art or will be aware of the methods which they may have adapted to suit their own needs. For myself, I find hand stitching codex book blocks a wholly satisfying process, as making books is another hat I wear. Very shortly, I will be embarking on a very special hand bound album for a certain newly-wed couple.

Having worked on bespoke albums in the past, I also get equally enthusiastic about the limits to which making books or book arts can be stretched to.

There are those who just can't seem to accept that a book should be anything else than a codex form but book arts encourage exploration, experimentation, fun and enjoyment. This is what I found when I studied at LCC, and now the MA study in Book Arts is available at Camberwell.

At 'Turn the Page' 2013 there was work which on first appearance seemed like a normal book. On closer inspection, it had come about from pages of thoughts which had been written down, torn out and screwed up, a process being repeated today for regenerating into another new book.

'The Wastepaper Project' Joanna Holden
 The books moved from the almost bizarre...

Karen Apps the cute. Here books had been altered (some may view this as sacrilege!) the bunny having fully movable arms and legs, and being made from the cut pages of the selected book.

Other notable work came from Nicola Dale, with her intricately hand cut pages (timelapse). Theresa Easton with her colourful printmaking drawer, and Miranda Campbell who I had first encountered at the Minories in Colchester.

What was clear today is that Book Arts is as exciting as it has always been, with forty artists sharing their passion at Turn the Page 2013.

I look forward to 2014 and maybe I will have something to share then too.

Whilst visiting Norwich, it seemed sense to 'make a day of it' and we dropped into the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts located on the UEA campus.

I hadn't visited this art museum before and I spent the first twenty minutes of my visit taking in the impressive architectural work of Sir Norman Foster. Pre-dating Stansted Airport, another Foster building which I have come to know pretty well due to my regular flying visits to Ireland, the similarities in the construction were clear to see. The Sainsbury Centre has now recieved listed status as an example of high-tech architecture.

By contrast, the space below is filled with an amazing and mostly historical collection amassed by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury.
Henry Moore and Francis Bacon are alongside each other, and here the Little Dancer by Edgar Degas appears to look up in architectual amazement.

This work struck a chord with me. My Wednesday evening yoga sessions are sometimes like this- my mind alerted to dinner by a grumbling empty stomach, rather than concentrating on the beneficial poses!

Finally a piece which has quite an impact on those who see it. Stranded is a six metre long crystal-encrusted skeleton of a minke whale.

"Stranded raises issues of the dramatic changes in the chemistry of the planet’s oceans and brings awareness to the threat of coral reefs and the marine food cycles"

This reminded me that very shortly I will be returning to Ireland, where I am involved with the IWDG and where I hope I will again be fortunate to enjoy the sight of whales, including Minke, Humpback, Fin whales, and maybe even a basking shark or two in the waters around South West Cork.

Still, I will turn the page to that on another day. Today was all about art. Aren't the chapters of life great?!