In Islamic culture, it is common for a sultan to keep a number of wives tucked away in a harem. Well, they do say, when in Rome do as the Romans do. Istanbul, or rather Constantinople was once capital of the Roman Empire. Alas, my plans to become Sultan Gary I turned out to be bull, rather than Istanbul.
It was hard to put my finger on it. Initially, it was just a sense of absence. But I couldn’t quite work out what it was. As our holiday drew on, the sensation became more profound. I started looking around me to see if I couldn’t spot the problem. But how to see something that isn’t there? That’s a tough one. But it gnawed on me. An itch that wouldn’t go away. I kept pondering this mysterious shortcoming. Of course, I eventually, I found the answer to my question. There was something missing in Istanbul. And I wanted to know what it was. But first, let’s look at what wasn’t missing….
How can the meeting point between east and west be anything other than a blend of intoxicating culture, music, art, noise and food? Nothing is at it seems, and new tastes and experiences are around every corner. But most of all, nothing beats waking up to the call of prayer in Asia, and an hour later you are washed, dressed and a 20 minute boat ride from Europe. At no stage are you ever under the illusion that you are close to home.
The ferries are fantastic, with regular services whisking you to a selection of well placed ports for just a few pence. There’s also a decent bus services, again at just a few pence a trip. There’s a pretty expansive metro system too. How much? You guessed it. Just a few pence. Taxis are just for emergencies. They are not just a couple of pence. The unwary may find a short trip takes longer than expected and costs not just a couple of pounds. Get a plastic travel card which can be topped up. It makes life easy. And it’s safe to say Istanbul is not missing a good transport network.
Shop Till You Drop
You can’t have a big city without a big selection of shops to go spend your hard earned money. Istanbul doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of bazaars, markets and corner shops aimed at the tourists. And there’s an even healthier selection of everyday shops to get essentials. I like walking around the everyday shops, wherever I am. Just to see what Jaffa Cakes are called in foreign lands. I didn’t buy any Jaffa Cakes though. Mrs P and I did come home with 1/2 a kilo of freshly groun Turkish coffee, a box of mixed Turkish Delight, a steel pepper grinder, assorted bags of pepper and spices and a bag full of fridge magnets.
The streets of Istanbul bustle with life. What sort of life and what sort of activities depend on where you might be. In Taksim, the people are young and hip. On the European side, they are a bit wealthier. In our part of town, on the Asian side, they were friendly, down to earth people, working hard to make a living. By the river we found them playing dominos in street cafes. On every side they were friendly. Istanbul is, by any definition, a pretty safe city with a dozen vibes to choose from depending on your mood.
The Easy Life
Every big city needs it’s nearby happy place to escape to. Istanbul has a series of pleasant, green and hilly little islands, all within an hour by ferry of the city centre. The water is clear and refreshingly cool. Too refreshingly cool for my taste. I’m a Pacific Ocean kind of guy. I need warm water with waves to jump around in. But I liked our trip to the islands nonetheless. The bike ride to the church at the top of the mountain was nice. Coasting back to the town was nicer. The delicious ice cream was the nicest. But if the ferry ride isn’t for you, you can always jump on a bus to the Black Sea. We did that too. The water was still too refreshingly cool for me. But I dipped my toes, just to check another body of water off of my To Do list.
Istanbul is an Islamic city. It’s not, however, the sort of city that throws gay people from towers, stones adulterous women for their indiscretions or decapitates infidels. If that has cleared anything up for you, you’ve been watching too much of the wrong sort of TV. Islam is not a religion of peace. No religion is. It does have a problem with extremists, as do all other religions. But in Istanbul, you’ll just get to enjoy the fruits of President Ataturk’s secularist policy that saw the country look forward toward the west, not backward to the south east of Arabia. The Blue Mosque is a sight to behold, as is the Hagia Sofia. I also really enjoyed the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, which boasted a treasure trove of literature, pots and pans, fabrics, and paintings from down the centuries.
The Hagia Sofia is the epitome of the blend of east and west. Once a church, then a mosque and now a museum. But there are better places to learn Turkish history and their place in the world over the years. We went to both the Dolmabahce and the Topkapi palaces, which were as magnificent in their splendour as many a western European palace. They both told the story of Turkey. From their role in the Roman Empire, which culminated in the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire through to the Republic. With plenty more told about the before and afters of all those eras. I enjoyed seeing the 4.5 ton chandelier gifted to the Turks by Queen Victoria, hanging in pride of place in the grand hall at the Topkapi. And pleased by this too. Normally, you read about absent artefacts with a note that they can currently be seen in the British Museum in London. Needless to say though, I didn’t have to wait too long to find a sign saying just those words. We Brits are such a crafty bunch of collectors of world history. Or thieves. Depending upon your point of view. But anyway. Suffice it to say. Istanbul does not lack for a sense of history.
The Missing Piece Of The Jigsaw
So what was it that was gnawing at me? I’ll tell you. It’s the architecture. The palaces are grand. There are interesting buildings here and there. One of two areas have some nice stone structures and cobbled streets. There are the many mosques. There are also smatterings of wooden buildings with windows shutters that wouldn’t look out of place in the deep south or eastern parts of the United States. But truth be told, there was an awful lot of brutalist concrete and glass blocks and buildings that remind you of London in the 1950s and 1960s, as the country rebuilt in the bomb craters of World War 2. These were, for the large part , the dominant architectural style of the city. What was missing was a sense of grand, identifiably Turkish architecture with long avenues and boulevards of stylish mansions.
This is Year of Mexico here in the UK. To celebrate, there have been plenty of exhibitions and events organised. Most of which we’ve missed – they are largely London centric, and it’s a bit of an expensive trek to get up there every weekend. But we weren’t going to miss what we consider the big double header. First up, a Lucha Libre event at the Royal Albert Hall. In a couple of weeks, the Mexican Folklore Ballet company are putting in a performance.
The Royal Albert Hall is a somewhat posher venue that the Luchadores are used too. If they feared the atmosphere would also be somewhat politer than is normal, then they were in for a pleasant surprise. A packed hall featured plenty of Latinos and Latinos who provided the profanity. And a couple of Englishmen dressed as nuns provided the luchado baiting. Frankly, us Brits do comedy drag better than anyone. Finally there were some masked up Aussies behind us who provided enough politically incorrect wrestling suggestions to last a lifetime. In short, the atmosphere rocked.
Lucha Libre is great fun. It makes no pretence as to what it is. It’s theatre, comedy, light entertainment. With some gymnastics thrown in for good measure. Even those who think that it’s not going to be there cup of tea are usually pleasantly surprised. We had some pretty good seats, just four rows back. But it’s tough to photograph from a few rows back though. You can check out my efforts on Flickr though, just by clicking here…
Let’s see if we can put this in a nutshell. In the late 90s, Greece, with a little help from their German friends, fudged their books to get the drachma operating within the rules and regulations of the ERM and threw their lot in to join the Euro. They continued fudging their books right up to a few years back. The Great Recession struck and someone asked for a little something from the reserves, only to be told…oops….ain’t none. A big stack of debts, yes. Cash reserves? Not so much. Not to worry. They kept on spending the welfare, dodging their taxes and dreaming the European dream.
And Greece and the EU fudged the books again, breaking all sorts of rules and regulations, splashing the cash to try and keep Greece’s head above water. Alas, the floatation aid stopped Greece from ever reaching dry land. And here we are today. The Greeks have debts they can never pay off. The Germans have credit notes they can’t forgive. Forgiveness is for wars. The truth is, the Greeks should never have been in the Eurozone. Trying to keep them in it was simply throwing good money after bad. It turned out that a half-baked single currency shared by a multitude of independent and competing economies wasn’t such a good idea. Who knew? I guess all the other countries who have ever tried to share a currency and seen it fail.
So here we are. Pick an option. It’s lose, lose all round. There can be no winners. The only question is, does Europe seek an idealogical solution based on faux European unity and give the Greek’s their financial haircut? Or do they seek a common sense solution and let Greece go? Time will tell. Either option is expensive. Either way, pro-Euro supporters like myself are watching, weeping, and losing faith. It’s become an uncontrollable monster. The Eurozone area needs to federalise. The European Union needs complete reform, or risk losing supporters like myself to the sceptic side.
Are there any possible winners at all? Well, possibly. If Greece becomes Europe’s turkey and is sent to the slaughter house, could Turkey become Europe’s next hot entry? Whether this would be a good thing for the Turks or a bad thing is debatable. But they have previously expressed a desire to join in the fun. The only thing stopping them? The Greeks, with their Cypriotic grudge*. Who might not be around to say ‘oxi’ for that much longer…
- Of course, the Greek part of Cyprus will remain to be convinced…
I remember the first time I saw one. If I remember rightly, I was unimpressed to say the least. He looked an idiot. An inconsiderate idiot at that. I rather hoped a police officer might stroll by and administer a sharp blow to the head with a truncheon. To knock some sense into him. I was jolly tempted to go smite him a blow myself. But I’m English. So I didn’t. I just muttered and grumbled for a little bit. Anyway. Then I saw another one. And another. And another. And then whole flocks of them. The selfie stick was here. I swore I’d never stoop so low. I, god-dammit, am a real photographer. Sort of.
Then one day, I was attempting to take a photo of Mrs P and myself, arm outstretched as far as it would go. And I thought to myself….actually, a selfie stick would be quite handy right now. A few days later, I happened to be doing a bit of online shopping, and needed to spend just a little bit more for free shipping. And lo and behold, there it was. In a little advert in the corner of the page. A selfie stick. I succumbed to temptation. Perhaps I’m not a real photographer after all.
I love my selfie stick. But, there are a couple of buts. Firstly, my good buddy Mr Cook really needs to have a look at that front facing camera. The selfie camera. It needs to shoot photos of the same quality as the main camera. This is essential. I’ve heard rumours that they are working on this for the new iPhone 6s for September. Secondly, they need to make that lens good and wide. So that the selfie also contains a bit more of the background that the selfie shooter is trying to capture. Thirdly, they really need to enable 16:9 format shooting on the iPhone. Both front and back cameras. It’s complete madness that they don’t already. My iPhone screen is 16:9. My laptop monitor is too. And my television. Fill my screens with my photos Mr Cook! I don’t need the black bars at the edges.
What else can I say about the selfie stick? Other than, with a little sob….’why the heck didn’t I think of that?!’ I’d be rolling in filthy lucre right now, taking selfies from all four corners of the world. But I didn’t. It is just one of those ever so simple inventions, though, isn’t it? One that you really should have gotten into production years ago, in some far away Chinese factory, using children to insert the finicky bluetooth modules. Such is life. I missed out again. Or have I? Has anyone invented self adhesive mirrors to stick on the back of phones, or their cases? So you can use the main camera. Pause in blogging while I go have a look….damn. Yep, I’ve been beaten to the punch again.
Nevermind. Anyway, I really enjoy taking photos on my iPhone. In good light, the results are ok. Sure, they don’t match the image quality from my Fuji. But still, it does provide instant gratification. And it’s so easy to use and carry. Which brings me to my last point. I have a lusty new object for my camera desire to focus on. The DxO One. What a wondrous little beast it is.
This is a camera that appeals. It plugs straight into an iPhone to give you a decent camera with a very good 1″ Sony sensor. I could see me having a ton of fun with this. When and if I can afford it. It’s rumoured to retail at $600. Not cheap, at all. But price tags have never stopped me from engaging in a little bit of fantasy camera lust.
Rat Free Zone
Wherever you are, you are never more than a few metres from a rat. So the saying goes. It is not true in Istanbul. There are no rats. Probably. However, in Istanbul, you are never more than a couple of metres from a cat. In all likelihood, you are never more than a few metres from a dozen cats. With intact testicles. Egypt has locusts. Europe has immigrants. Turkey has cats. Everywhere has to have a plague of something.
Stick it to ’em
I expected to be hustled and bustled by shopkeepers and market stall holders selling their wares. It goes with the tourist territory. Spices, cheese, trinkets, rugs, prints and other assorted pieces of tat, thrust in your face, shoved under your nose or tucked under your arm. The vendors of Istanbul are not, as it turned out, so terribly pushy. Except for the selfie stick sellers. They are everywhere. If it isn’t a Japanese tourist blocking your view of a fine looking palace with his or her latest cell phone, extended four feet in the air on a stick, then it’s a selfie stick seller thrusting his wares in your face. There are more selfie stick sellers in Istanbul than there are cats.
The City That Never Sleeps
The call to prayer is an exotic, entrancing sound. It’s a constant reminder that you are far from home, in foreign lands. Except at 5am, when it’s blared through your window from a mosque across the street. At that time in the morning, the call to prayer can f**k right off. But this is assuming you’ve actually gotten back to sleep from the last disturbance. It was Ramadan, so a kindly local strolls the streets at 2 to 3am, banging a drum loudly. Non stop. To remind you to have something to eat before sunrise.
At the end of the month, he’ll go door to door collecting a fee for his services from grateful Muslim neighbours. And a punch on the nose from anyone of any other religious persuasion. Boy, he must get an adrenaline rush every time he knocks on a door. Still, if the call to prayer and drummer boy haven’t done your sleep in for the night, there’s always the incessant sound of cats mating and fighting. Sometimes doing both at the same time, I’m guessing. Then there’s the seagulls, squawking non stop. I did not know seagulls were at least partly nocturnal. There are more seagulls in Istanbul than selfie stick sellers. Three plagues? This is one unlucky city.
That Dizzy Feeling
Perhaps it’s the ferries that carry you across the river. Perhaps it the outward sloping balconies around tall towers that seem to want to send you slipping to your doom. Perhaps it’s staring upwards at the interiors of the enormous domes of mosques you’re visiting. Perhaps it is the strong Turkish coffee. Perhaps it is the climbing of a thousand steep hills that the city is built on. Perhaps it is a combination of all of them. But if you ever, even just for a moment, stand still in Istanbul, you’re never quite sure which way is up.
Don’t Lose Your Head
Turkey is an Islamic country. Which means, of course, that it contains a population made up entirely of terrorists. I have to say, having now been there, I can’t help but feel that terrorists have been given a bad name somewhat unfairly. They were ever so friendly, and much to my surprise not once did any one try to behead me with a rusty spoon. However, I was the victim of constant biological weapons attack, chiefly on the metro. Deodorant is clearly optional for men in Istanbul. An option which most seem to decline.
I’m still processing a humungus multitude of raw photos from my Fuji. My iPhone photography processing is much quicker. They auto upload to Flickr, and then I just select which ones to publish. My Istanbul by iPhone album was uploaded ages ago – click here to see it. Or have a look over a small selection of them that I have embedded below. And NO I did NOT buy a selfie stick. I already had one with me, bought in the UK.
Last month, shortly before the election for the FIFA presidency, the FBI declared to the world that FIFA are a corrupt organisation. Rotten to the core. A criminal racketeering organisation. Sheesh. Tell us something we didn’t already know. I can almost hear you say, “Ah, but now we’ve got the evidence!”. Sheesh, because awarding Qatar the rights to host a world cup wasn’t cast iron evidence? That the two most corrupt nations in the bidding process, Russia and Qatar, won the rights to both upcoming world cups? They are different types of evidence to that presented by the FBI, I know.
There’s a lot of optimism that the criminal investigations by US and Swiss authorities will prevail in bringing the criminal element within FIFA to justice, and force the organisation to reform into a transparent body, with integrity and fairness embedded within all processes. Alas, I am not so optimistic. I wrote a post back in 2012 after the awarding of the next two world cups. I had this to say…
FIFA has long been known to be a corrupt little club of tin pot dictators. This morning they added further evidence of that. The organisation doesn’t simply need to be cleansed, but closed and replaced with a more open, transparent and representative body.
Here’s the problem as I see it. Within days of the arrests, 133 of 209 football associations from around the world ignored common sense and voted to re-elect Sepp Blatter as president. That’s 133 associations who chose to re-elect a man who has been running the organisation as a personal fiefdom for nearly two decades, sanctioning corrupt practices, actively protecting the guilty and lining the pockets of his supporters. I knew he was corrupt. They knew he was corrupt. The world knows he’s corrupt. Yet they voted for him. What future is there for a body with a membership with that is so openly accepting of such a president?
Russia and Qatar bought their world cups. I feel confident enough to state that as fact. If the direct evidence doesn’t surface, it’s because it’s been destroyed, and destroyed well. Russia have already disclosed that every email ever sent regarding their bid has been destroyed. But it’s quite clear how one wins the rights to a world cup. So we have a situation. If either Russia or Qatar are allowed to host the 2018 and 2022 cups, then it is clear that continuing corruption is being tolerated. If there is any sort of evidence, there will almost certainly be law suits brought to the courts by the losing bidders. With the amount of money at stake, a loss in the court room could, should, bankrupt FIFA.
If evidence arises showing the tournaments were bought, and Russia and Qatar are stripped, then they will no doubt also fight their case through the courts, in a bid to have their status as hosts reinstated. Again, potential bankruptcy for FIFA beckons. And in either event, I predict a bitter and destructive civil war within FIFA. In my opinion, FIFA is done for. It’s position at the top of the football family is untenable. I still believe it needs to be shut down and replaced. Let Qatar and Russia pursue a defunct organisation through the courts for money that isn’t there and for the rights to host tournaments that don’t exist.
Replaced with what? Isn’t that the ten million dollar question. A new home is an obvious starter as Switzerland is a land too comfortable with keeping secrets. It should remain in Europe though. Whether in a sporting powerhouse such as England or Germany, or a more neutral nation, such as Belgium, Denmark or Switzerland. It doesn’t matter much. The rest is basic stuff. A charter that clearly defines its role with regulations that ensure transparency.
But still, a problem remains. The membership of the organisation probably won’t change much. And the membership, and its dubious voting habits, are as big a part of the problem as Sepp Blatter and his cronies are. The rest of the world doesn’t want European dominance. However, Europe (or most of it) doesn’t want to be part of the status quo. The danger, some might suggest, is a fracturing of the sport into numerous different bodies. I don’t think it is a danger. Because whether the rest of the world likes it or not, Europe does dominate football. European money, trophies and the domestic leagues are world football. Any body not including Europe is doomed from day one.
Does any one come out of this with any credit whatsoever? I’m happy to say that the UK does, to a certain degree. The FA have been outspoken. But most importantly, the British press, tawdry as it can often be, has for many years exposed FIFA corruption and kept the pressure on. The USA too can claim the moral high ground. Sure, their own FIFA rep was one of the most corrupt of the bunch. But at least the authorities got their man, and took the rest out with him. But it’s hard to find much in the way of good guys beyond those two countries. Oh. Except for me. Because I told you so. Years ago. I know, I wasn’t the only one, but why would I pass up the opportunity to gloat?
Who comes out of this with egg on their faces, besides the Executive Committee? Michel Platini would like to position himself to take over the presidency, I’m sure. But he voted for Qatar. His reasons for doing so scarcely matter. He’s tainted. The whole world of football currently has egg on its face. And as for Blatter. Well, as I write this, he is still actually president, and is planning to remain in the role till nearly Christmas. I sincerely hope his plan to hang around for so long are interrupted. One of his allies was fired from FIFA today for telling a joke. “The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, the director of communications and the general secretary are all sitting in a car – who is driving? The police.” That’s a joke just waiting to happen.
In my younger years, when I still lived in the nation’s capital, I’d often go to see Liverpool when they came to town. There’s quite a few London teams who are, or at least were, regulars in the English top flight. QPR, Watford, Crystal Palace, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Charlton, Millwall, West Ham, Clapham Rover and Wanderers. I can sense a few raised eyebrows from seasoned English football fans. Clapham Rovers and Wanderers? They are both now defunct. Have been for years. But both have FA Cup wins to their names, Wanderers with five of them. Indeed, Wanderers share the record with Blackburn Rovers for the most consecutive FA Cup wins (3) and another record shared with three others teams for winning consecutive cup finals on two occasions. Bet you didn’t know that, eh? Bet you don’t much care, either…
When I went to see games on a Saturday in the 80s and 90s, things were much different from today. You could turn up on the day and buy a cheap ticket for a few pounds and stand up to watch the match. The stadiums were all a bit worse for wear, the pitches often turned into a mud bath after the first heavy rain of the season and the burgers were a sure fire way to ruin your Sunday. If you needed a wee, you could go in the trough. Or just pee on the floor next to the trough. Or even pee in the corridor outside the toilets. It really was all much the same thing.
These days, you need to start your efforts to get a ticket weeks in advance, and your efforts will often fail to deliver. It’s tough to get a ticket, and if you’re successful, you’ll part with a sizeable chunk of your weekly salary. But the stadiums are all now world class, and peeing on the floor will almost certainly get you ejected from the stadium. Do it in the corridor, and you’ll probably end up on a sex offender register. Times have indeed changed. Apart from the availability and pricing, for the better.
Back in the day I watched some of the greatest players even to pull on the red jersey of Liverpool. Dalglish, Rush, Whelan, Hansen, Lawrensen, Barnes, Beardsley, Aldridge, Nicol, Grobbelaar to name a few. Then I left London, and I stopped going to matches. I became an armchair fan. That’s ok. I’ve always had a comfy armchair and a half decent telly. The view is always the best, too. But I miss the atmosphere. I miss seeing the game in the flesh. So now and again, I try to get a ticket. And fail.
Until this season. Back in December, Liverpool came to Bournemouth to play the local team in a cup tie on a bleak, dark and positively chilly Wednesday night. Bournemouth are a lower league team, so this was a big deal for the town. The tickets were all gone in a flash, of course. But Mrs P delivered. She has a friend who happens to be a season ticket holder at Bournemouth, and he kindly gave his ticket up for me. What a sacrifice. What a great guy! But karma can be a blessing, not just a bitch. Bournemouth were recently promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their 100+ year history. He’ll get to see a ton of top games next season.
In the days leading up to the game, I thought back to the last time I went to a match. It was twenty years ago. Steven Gerrard was still a schoolboy last time I went. It’s since turned out that this is Gerrard’s final season at Liverpool after 17 years in the first team. He’s heading out to Los Angeles to wind down his career. He played that Wednesday night, so I can add his name to the list of Liverpool legends that I’ve seen play. I have a photo too, to prove it.
Is Gerrard the greatest? There are many who say he is. But how do you define great? Luis Suarez is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most talented player to pull on the red jersey. But his stay was too short for him to be the greatest. For me, as with most people my age who grew up watching the all conquering teams of the late 70s and 80s, Kenny Dalglish will always be numero uno. But Steven Gerrard is most definitely a close number two.
Without him, the last couple of decades would have a been a miserable time for us Liverpool supporters. He’s raised some pretty mediocre Liverpool teams to greatness over the years. He’s scored some of the finest goals seen in the game, in some of the most memorable games, often right at the death. And whatever some of his detractors might say, he will always have that Wednesday night in Istanbul, 25th May 2005.
Liverpool will miss the guy. English football will miss him. I will miss seeing him take to the field. But I will always have that Wednesday night in Bournemouth, 12th December 2015.
A few months back, I wrote about my efforts at digitising a few dozen of my grandfathers ancient photos using little more than a cardboard box, some sticky tape and my mobile phone. A lot of the photos taken on his holidays in Europe. Others were from his home in London and around the UK. One batch were from some unknown gardens.
It turns out that Unknown Gardens is also known by the name of Compton Acres. Which happens to be just a stroll away from my home here in Bournemouth. I’d never been, so I didn’t recognise it. Yes, of course I have now paid the place a visit. It would be silly not to. It was a great chance to do a ‘then and now’ comparison.
I must admit, I’m a little jealous of the greens in my grandfather’s shot. And also a little envious of the fact that he obviously knew the best time to visit. His photos were graced with a substantially more colourful array of flowers. But he, in turn, would have been rather jealous of my iPhone, I dare say he might have found even the very existence of such a device as likely as aliens landing.
All good photos need a good model. Allow me to present, on the left, Mrs P senior, and on the right, Mrs P junior. Ironically, Mrs P junior is substantially older than senior. In the photos, anyway. Not so in real life. Although you cannot see the spot I am standing on, it is, thanks to shrubbery and a single paving stone in the middle of a stream, the only spot to take this shot. That is the case today and it was the case 50 or so years ago when my grandfather took his photo. I will admit, it was a little strange taking this shot, knowing that he had stood on exactly the same stone nearly half a century earlier to create his photo.
Compton Acres is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon. You can see the rest of my photos on Flickr by clicking here. And who knows, maybe in another half century or so, Mexile Junior will be able to turn this photography theme into a trilogy.
…then, wait for 15 to 20 years. Then, and only then, have another pop at it. You might at first think I’m referring to my efforts at blogging. It’s been ages since I have crafted some digital bits and bytes for this corner of the interweb. Since my last effort, there’s been a general election, Sepp Blatter has been re-elected and resigned. The 10 year anniversaries of Liverpool wining the Champions League, and my arrival in Mexico have been and gone. There’s been a new version of Lightroom released. And new versions of Flickr and Google Photos. I’ve had inspiration and potential content aplenty. I’ve not alas, had the time. And it’s not been decades since I last wrote, either. Although I suspect that May 2015 is the first full calendar month that I’ve failed to write a single thing for a decade.
But let’s get to the point. In 1995, I left London and moved about 100 miles south west, settling on a farm in the Middle of Nowhere, Dorset. The nearest bus stop was 2 miles away, but lacked any sort of regular bus service. The nearest real town was about 8 miles away. And all I had to get me from A to B was a twenty to thirty year old pedal bike*.And get me from A to B it did. Not very quickly, not always in a clean and dry state, and sometimes with stops for puncture repairs. But it got me to work. And for that, I thank it.
Needless to say though, I desired a more comfortable mode of transport that provided a greater degree of protection from the elements. So I got myself a provisional license, took a bunch of lessons, passed the driving theory test and then took the practical test. Which I failed. Three times. I won’t bore you with the deep injustice of those failures. Or the loathing I still have for the miserable examiner who sat in on all three tests. If karma exists, he was run over and….oh, let’s just say I don’t like him. I’m still a little bitter.
I abandoned the idea of driving a car and settled for the more easily attainable CBT, which allowed me to ride motorbikes up to 125cc. I got a bike, indeed I went through several over the years, and gained motorised mobility. If not weather protection. We can’t have it all. But my scooters had their advantages. I cut through traffic in rush hour like a knife through butter. And I was never the designated driver on a night out.
But times change. Mrs P was never sold on the idea of riding pillion. So I revisited the concept of four wheeled transport. A couple of months back I took my driving theory test. Again. I took a couple of driving lesson. Again. I took my practical driving test. Again. This time I passed. I’d have been disappointed had I not, to say the least. In the years since my last effort, I’ve had more than a decade worth of road experience on my bikes, and I drove a car in Mexico for years. In fact, quite frankly, I think that driving a car in Mexico City and surviving should automatically qualify a driver for a full license, no test needed.
With my new license in hand, we went car shopping. We knew pretty much what we wanted – an automatic Mazda 3, low mileage, no more than 8 years old. There’s not a huge range of them to choose from, so choosing was fairly easy. And below you can see the newest member of the family. She drives very nicely, returns about 38-40 mpg and is a comfortable ride. We’re very happy with her. With a little luck, she’ll take us on new adventures, to places beyond those easily served by public transport. And I’ll report it all here. Maybe…
I’ve wanted to experiment with long exposure photography for ages. And ages. It’s a pretty simple process in principle. Apply a filter to your lens, set to bulb mode and shoot. Hopefully at the end of it, you’ll get a photo with surreal qualities. Maybe one could even describe them as magical. It’s that filter bit that’s been the stumbling block though. I’d tried a £20 cheap variable Polaroid filter last year, which produced dismal results. A decent filter with the stopping power to produce a photo worth publishing to Flickr is not cheap. Starting point is about £100. Which I don’t have.
But it set me thinking. Isn’t there a cheap and cheerful way to do this? Surely someone has improvised and created an alternative to Lee’s Big Stopper filter? It turns out, the answer to those questions is ‘yes’. And it’s a really, really cheap alternative to a professional lens. So I bought the key ingredients and got to work. There’s my set up in the photo below. One piece of welding glass from Amazon for the bargain price of £1.33, And two strong elastic bands. Which cost nothing because they came in our shopping delivery, holding the asparagus together.
My initial efforts at creating a worthy long exposure photograph did not go as well as hoped. I set up shop alongside a stream flowing through some nearby gardens. My camera will shoot up to a maximum of 30 seconds before you’re forced into bulb mode. And 30 seconds is not long enough. Nor can you really use bulb mode without a remote. Which I did not have. You can see the best result, below left.
But I was determined to make my welding glass contraption succeed, so I went home and ordered a generic corded remote from Amazon for £9 and change. With this essential addition to my kit, I went to one of the best locations for long exposure photography in the whole of Dorset, Old Harry Rocks. I perched my self four or four feet from the cliff top and had a second go. Alas, to say it was a windy day is something of an understatement. A few gusts caught me unaware and blew me five or six feet along the cliff. I backed off from the cliff face a little. A sensible precaution.
I persevered, but it was no use. I couldn’t hold my tripod and camera steady in the wind and the vibrations ruined the shot, which is below right. It looks out of focus, but it is not. That was just the wind blowing the camera about. But this attempt was still more successful than my next expedition. I chose the less breezy Boscombe pier as the location. I rode my bike out there, set everything up, cursed myself for leaving my memory card in my computer, packed everything away and returned home.
So. Fourth time lucky? This morning I got up nice and early, packed all my gear in my backpack, including the memory card, and walked down to Bournemouth Pier. The wind was light, the beach deserted and I had every I needed. I shot four or five exposures. I started with a 3 minutes exposure for the first photo, but settled on 5 minutes as the optimum exposure. The aperture of the lens was set to f5.6 and the ISO at 400. Finally I got a few decent results.
Straight out of the camera, there’s a very strong green cast to the photo. See below. That’s to be expected from a piece of welding glass that costs little more than a pound. It is possible to remove the cast in Photoshop (see the snap of Old Harry Rocks above) but you get a mixed bag of results. It works better with some photos than others. I knew before I even purchased the glass that these shots were going to look their best in black or white or with some creative post processing filters applied.
So anyway. I got back home, imported the photos into the latest shiny iteration of Adobe Lightroom (v6.0 was released just a few days ago) and got to work. Even if I say so myself, I’m pretty pleased with the results. It’s been quite a bit of work to finally get some decent long exposure snaps, but the work has paid off. A bit of cropping here, a bit of straightening there. I played with the shadow, highlights and contrast. I played around with a few filters. And I made this….
And a few more variations of these two photos, which you can see on Flickr if you click here. These photos will win me no prizes, but I’ve had a lot of fun making them. And having conquered the learning curve, I’ll be able to produce some more long exposure photos in the future with a bit less fuss. Perhaps I’ll try Old Harry Rocks again on a slightly calmer day.
It’s that least memorable of special dates in the English calendar once again. When we celebrate, or forget to celebrate, our patron saint. The Scots have Burns Day and the Irish have St Patrick, and they get celebrated with gusto. St George? Meh. What’s to get excited about? With the noticeable lack of dragons roaming the countryside lately, there doesn’t seem to be a need for the chap. St George was a foreigner anyway. Not even an Englander. Immigrants aren’t the flavour of the month here. Ironic then that the rather right wing UKIP party, who want to bring us out of the EU and send the immigrants back, are pretty much the only people trying to promote St George. I’m sure the irony is lost on them.
I’ve decided to celebrate St George’s Day this year in the most appropriate way. I’ve booked a ticket to Istanbul, to go see St George’s roots. He was Turkish, after all. I’ve always wanted to go. It’s exotic, but just a four hour flight away. It’s rich in history and culture but cheap as chips to get to. And, of course, I’ll get to see what it was that convinced St George to abandon the UK after all his dragon slaughtering exploits to return home to Turkey. But I think I might know the answer already…Turkish Delight. Of sorts…
On the 12th March, one hundred years ago, a young fellow from Bournemouth, Cecil Noble, rushed head first into German machine gun fire to cut through a mass of wire that was holding up his battalion. Noble by name, noble by nature. He succeeded, and so did his battalion when they eventually got to Jerry’s trenches. Cecil was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour in the face of the enemy. Like most recipients of the highest military award that this country has to offer, he didn’t get to see his medal. His comrade that day, who accompanied him to the wire and was also awarded the VC, was more fortunate and lived to tell the tale. The photo below is of Cecil. And a Victoria Cross.
Bournemouth provided the British Army of World War 1 with two men of sufficient calibre to earn themselves a Victoria Cross. These aren’t medals that are handed out willy nilly. To date, 1358 Victoria Crosses have been awarded to 1355 men. The numbers don’t add up, obviously. Three men share the distinction of receiving the award twice. One can only assume that their balls must have been bigger and brassier than the ones shot at them by enemy cannon.
There won’t be too many further recipients in the future. One would hope that we’ll fight fewer wars in the years to come, thereby naturally limiting the opportunities to ‘win’ one. But regardless, the metal used to make the medals is running out. The bronze that is used to make the medals comes from the cascabels (no, I didn’t really know what a cascabel is either) of a pair of Russian cannon captured during the Crimean war. Although upon closer inspection, like so many things, they turned out to be made in China.
Whatever the origin of the cannon, there’s just about enough metal left for another 80 to 85 Victoria Crosses. What next? If I were a betting man, my money would be on a brand new medal, the Elizabeth Cross. Or perhaps, just to wind up the Illuminati conspiracy theorists, the Elizabeth ‘All Seeing Eye’ Triangle. It’s just a thought…
But let’s get back to the point of this post. As part of the centenary commemorations of World War 1, a scheme was launched to mark the bravery of each and every Victoria Cross winner from the war. A commemorative paving slab will be laid in the birthplace of each man, exactly one hundred years from the date of their act of bravery. For most, like Mr Noble, it will also mark a century since their untimely deaths. Cecil was but 23 years of age. That’s his paving slab above.
The slab was laid in the ground next to the Bournemouth War Memorial, an impressive white structure in Bournemouth’s Gardens. Next to the small river Bourne that gives the town it’s name. I couldn’t find it at first. I rather expected it to be laid inside the memorial. It turned out to have been discreetly placed outside, in the corner to left of the steps. Just in case you should ever want to pop along to take a look.
The stretch of lawn leading from the town centre up to the memorial has plenty of other slabs to take note of too. On one side are memorials of a happier nature, such as one to mark the birth of Price Andrew. Each has a tree planted with it to. On the other side are memorials of a more sombre kind. There’s a recent addition, marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I took a few more snaps of the memorial and surroundings which can be seen on Flickr by clicking here. You might wonder where lies the paving slab commemorating the second Bournemouth soldier to have received the VC? It doesn’t. Yet. His act of valour occurred in 1918, so we will have to wait 3 more years before his slab is set in the ground.
The world famous Jurassic Coast stretches along a 95 mile length of Dorset and Devon coastline and makes a mighty fine day trip from Bournemouth. It’s not even a long day, if you’re pushed for time. Old Harry Rocks marks the eastern most point of the Jurassic Coach and is only a few miles from Bournemouth as the crow flies. Indeed, if the weather is fine, or at least not too bad, you can clearly see the rocks from Bournemouth’s beaches. Getting there is a 45 minute drive or bus ride – the Purbeck Breezer leaves Bournemouth hourly.
The trip itself is quite pleasant, winding through the millionaires playground of Sandbanks, across Poole Harbour on the chain ferry and onwards through the Purbeck countryside until you reach the little town of Studland. From there, your journey makes use of your legs rather than the internal combustion engine. The rocks are a 3/4 mile stroll up and down rough tracks and across grasslands to the top of the cliffs.
Why the name Old Harry Rocks? No one knows for sure. One theory is that the devil, referred to locally as Old Harry, took a nap here once upon a time. It seems an unlikely tale to me. Another story holds that a local pirate, Harry Paye, used to keep his loot in the area. This strikes me a being a little more plausible. Whatever the case, the Rocks have been attracting visitors for a long time, although these days you’re more likely to find that they are happy day trippers, coming to admire the view.
Or else, rather unfortunately, unhappy souls who plan on making this view their last. It’s a long drop to the rocks on the bottom. It’s a popular spot for that sort of thing. Even more unfortunately, it is not unknown for visitors to slip and fall accidentally. The vase of flowers are there for a young woman who took an unplanned tumble the week before my visit. Suffice it to say, one should mind one’s step and tread carefully. And if you’re walking the dog, make sure you throw the stick in the right direction.
The walk and fresh sea air will make you hungry. There are three dining options available to you. The Pig is a rather posh hotel serving fine cuisine with a price tag to match. Mains will set you back from £16 to £20 per head. Or there is the Bankes Arms, a pub that dates back to 1549, or so they say. Alternatively, if the weather is nice, bring your own grub. There’s plenty of space on the cliff tops for a picnic.
We chose to splash out and have something fancy at the Pig. We’d checked the menu out on our way there and I simply needed to choose between the liver and bacon or the veal. It’s a very cosy little place. Warm and a little worn, which just adds to the character. Alas, lunch service ends at 2.30 pm and we didn’t have time to wait for dinner service. We headed back down the road to the Bankes Arms. Which is very worn, to the point that one wouldn’t feel out of place spitting on the splintered floorboards. But I didn’t. I’m pretty sure that is frowned upon.
Pubs in the UK are pretty hit and miss. With the chains, such as Wetherspoons, the food is cheap but consistent. You know what you’ll get. Otherwise, you could end up with either a feast or a plate of gristle and fat. And a bill which will sometimes make you wonder if you couldn’t have lasted a little longer till you get to Claridge’s. I always play it safe in these sorts of establishments. Most of them will do a reasonable fish and chips. A cheese ploughmans is also hard to screw up. On this occasion I was a little more daring and plumped for the faggots. The chalkboard told me that they are locally made. One hopes that anything locally made will be reasonably edible. And faggots aren’t hard to cook. As it turned out they were very good. A little overdone, but perfectly satisfying and pretty tasty.
I took more than these three photos. To see the full set of my snaps from our trip to Old Harry Rocks, click here and you will soon find yourself at the right place for the photo tour.
The Castle was as traditional a London pub as you could wish to find. Late Victorian, the exterior had a green and white facade, colourful blooms flowing over the edges of a half dozen hanging baskets and an interior boasting many original interior features. Including the characters that kept the pub in business. There’s Martin the Telly. He dealt in stolen televisions when he wasn’t not pulling pints. Everyone knows him as Martin the Telly. Including the local constabulary. Not a good thing. His annual vacations went on longer than most.
Irish Paul played Sax. His dad, Murphy the landlord, played accordion. Picking a fight with either of them was a bad decision that would ruin your Friday night. They weren’t to be messed with. They’d both play a good bit of marimba on your ribs with the leg of a bar stool if the occasion called for it. As a general rule of thumb, never antagonise anyone called Murphy in London. Mary would patrol the bar, fag in mouth, coaxing coins from punters in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Whether or not any of the guide dogs ever saw the cash remains unknown.
Then there was Dick the Brick. In a pub full of life’s bad decisions, Dick pulled rank when it came to making a poor choice. But he was an amiable sort. A raconteur. Every pub has a Dick. You’ll find him, all hours, propping up one end of the bar. Red cheeked, often the worse for wear by evenings end. But always good for a funny tale. Dick had served in the navy when he was younger and had plenty of fishy sounding tales to tell. His sole piece of action came against Icelandic fisherman in the infamous Cod War. So his tales are fishier than most. But the navy didn’t suit him. He bored easily. So off he went to the merchant navy. Which soon bored him too. He decided the life of a land lubber was for him and did a course in brick laying.
By all accounts, he did a decent job when he put his mind to it. Which wasn’t often. His mind was, he decided, better off pickled with the local draught in the Castle. He spent more time propping up the bar than he did supporting his wife. Bad decision. She left him. Still, Dick dreamed big. One day, upon hearing that an old best friend had passed on, Dick packed up and went to Glasgow. The only decent thing to do would be to step into his old friend’s shoes and take on his wife and child as his own. It would be a turning point in his life. A new beginning.
His grand plan did not, alas, go down well with the recently widowed lady. She sensibly declined his generous offer and sent him packing back to London. It was a nice gesture by Dick, but one made through an alcoholic delusion of grandeur. There was no new beginning for Dick. He went back to the Castle and drowned his sorrows. He made another life changing decision. The bell for last orders came and went, he drained the last drops from the bottom of his glass and Dick stumbled back home. He opened the door at the third attempt and stepped over the piles of clutter than lay about over his floor. He picked up his old tool bag, and slumped down in his saggy old armchair.
He unzipped the bag. The interior of his tool bag was undoubtedly the cleanest thing in the flat. But then, it hadn’t seen the light of day in a while. Inside the bag he found what he was looking for. He clicked it open, placed the blade to his throat, just under his left ear. With one swift, determined, forceful movement, he pulled the knife across his throat. He gasped as the shock of the incision registered. He gasped again for air as blood flowed down his windpipe. Did he gasp a third time, as he wondered to himself… had he made yet another bad decision? We’ll never know. Dick’s life no doubt flashed briefly through his mind as his life quickly spilled away onto the fabric of his well worn chair. Briefly, because his life was brief. Dick was but 50 years old.
Dick was quickly missed. Takings at the pub take a hit when someone like Dick goes awol. Two days later, the police and a few regulars bust into his flat and found his blood soaked corpse. There was no note. None needed. Everyone knew Dick’s story, and it’s the sort of story that has a predictably sad ending. His funeral was attended by his pals from the Castle. He was missed. Later, a group of them bought him a bench. To remember him by.
The story is fifty per cent true. Maybe sixty per cent. I never met Dick the Brick. But I sat on his bench for a while to rest at the weekend. I wondered how many Dick the Bricks could there be? I Googled him.With success. And let my imagination fill in the gaps. I like the little memorials on benches. There’s a story behind every one of them. Sadly, the plaque is just a tease and the story is hidden from view. Usually. Not so for Dick the Brick.
It gave me an idea. Why don’t these plaques contain a scannable Q code that leads to a memorial web page? After all, most people these days will park their backsides on a bench and spend a few minutes staring at their screen. Perhaps I should pitch this on the Dragons Den.