Spit and Sawdust

If you are hoping for a tale of drinking and debauchery in a traditional olde worlde pub, then I am going to disappoint you. Wrong type of spit and sawdust establishment. Instead, let me introduce you to a world that is altogether crazier that anything the depraved mind of the village alcoholic could ever dream up. The spit is Mudeford. The sawdust represents the wooden huts that have been stacked up along the sandy stretch of beach. The madness is the price that some people are prepared to fork out for one of these ramshackle buildings, which are only ever one big storm away from turning in a new British Atlantis.

When working out what sort of value for money these huts represent, I had a look at what you’d need to pay out for a property in the most expensive cities on plant earth.  Just to give these huts a little perspective. At about £16,000 per square metre for a piece of Mudeford real estate, only Monaco appears to be more expensive. Given that they have no running water, nor any electricity (unless the owner has fitted some solar panels) they are even worse value when you consider that you wouldn’t use them all year round.

Adios Vulcan

In the 1950s, Britain decided they needed some shiny new planes to deliver the country’s nuclear bombs to carefully chosen locations east of Berlin. Britain was still a world  superpower of sorts. In the air, she was still the superpower. So in keeping wih that status, the decision was made to put in orders for three different aircraft. The Victor, the Valiant and the Vulcan. The V Force. At ridiculous expenses, hundreds of planes were built and put into the air just in time to coincide with the development of effective anti-aircraft missiles and the decision to house the nuclear deterrent inside submarines instead.

To understand why the decision was made at all, you’d do worse that watch the recent two part television series, Cold War Hot Jets – two hours of aviation history from a British perspective. One things that becomes quickly apparent – of the three types of bomber, there was one that represented the cutting edge of technology. It was the riskiest of the three projects. Ultimately, it was the most successful. Once anti-aircraft missiles had become an established and unmitigated threat, there was just one that was capable of switching from high altitude high speed flight, to speeding along just metres off of the ground, under the radar.

Luckily, it was also the most beautiful of the three planes. It was, of course, the Vulcan. If you’ve seen it in the flesh, you’ll never forget it. It’ll appear in silence. Then the noise from the four engines catches up. It won’t just deafen you. The ground will vibrate and numb your senses.Only the Concorde compares. Although Concorde had a slightly less deadly job to do. Not that a Vulcan was ever called upon to fulfil a nuclear raid. Indeed, for all the money spent on the V Force bombers, only one ever supplied an explosive delivery in anger.

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Ironically, in 1981, the Argentines wanted to buy some Vulcans. The British government initially agreed to sell them a single bomber. A few months later, the Falkland Islands were invaded, and a Vulcan was duly sent to Argentina’s military forces. Albeit in a different manner to how they had originally planned to take delivery. One Vulcan and a fleet of refuelling aircraft flew from the UK to the Falklands, dropped some bombs on the runway and then returned home. It was the longest bombing raid in history until relatively recently, an there’s a documentary on YouTube that tells the story. Despite the successful sortie, the Vulcans were retired just a couple of years later.

There is just one Vulcan still flying these days, making appearances at airshows around the country. It is everyone’s favourite. Every year, there are fears that the Vulcan may not return next year. It is costly to keep airworthy, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep this 50 year old plane in the sky. But every year the money is found for another tour of air show duty. However, the end is now nigh, it seems. The owners have announced that this year is the final year of the Vulcan.

My home town of Bournemouth has one of the largest free air shows in Europe. I go every year. I pick my day carefully – which day does the Vulcan fly? I got a decent viewing point this year and snapped away with my camera at what was, possibly, the Vulcan’s final display over the golden sands of Bournemouth. Farewell old chap. We will miss you. Click here for the full photo set from last weekends show.

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The Long Exposure Learning Curve

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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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And this…
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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.

Most Conspicuous Bravery

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

Bournemouth Fire Gardens

The Bournemouth Gardens Fire Show seems to be an annual event now. I missed it last year. But I was there this year, armed with my Fuji X-M1 to test its ability to shoot a little video. It’s not the most entertaining video you’ll ever see. I wanted to see how the camera performed in very low light. Fuji doesn’t really shout about the X-M1s video capabilities too much. It’s not its strongest suit. But I think it did ok.

The fire show itself is a rather bizarre event. Surreal even. It comes under the umbrella of the Bournemouth Arts Week something or other. I took a few photos too. You can have a look at those on Flickr by clicking here.

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Bournemouth Air Festival 2014

The Bournemouth Air Festival has been and gone once more. As ever, it was a fantastic show. Photographically, this year’s show was not the best for me. Firstly, I haven’t yet received my free telephoto lens from Fuji. And to match the shots I achieved last year with the Fuji X-S1, I really needed a telephoto lens. Secondly, the weather. It wasn’t cold. It didn’t rain. But it was grey. Which always makes photography a little more challenging. And again, I needed blue skies to match what I achieved last year. So. Maybe next year…

But I did get some snaps. The one below for starters. The others are in a single album with all the photos I’ve ever taken at the Bournemouth Festival, from 2011 thru to 2014. click here. This year’s are at the bottom.

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A Century of Remembering

Already this year there have been several important dates commemorating the centenary of World War I. Today is the special date for Britain. A hundred years ago today, Britain declared war on Germany. Arguably, it was today in 1914 that a potentially localised European war turned into a full scale global conflict. There are lots of events taking place across the country and on the battlefields in France and Belgium. Lest we forget.

There’s little chance anyone will forget. Every town, village and hamlet has a war memorial with the names of the dead of 1914 to 1918 engraved upon them. Other institutions like train stations and Royal Mail offices have their own plaques. Bournemouth has a rather grand memorial in the gardens, which I cycle past on most days. I cycled past this evening and took a photo.

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In the gardens today there were youngsters from all over Europe playing football. On the grass, not across trenches. After school or work, not during a ceasefire. The airship in the background is a balloon to provide tourists with a view, not a Zeppelin dropping bombs on civilians. I came home from the gardens to find a letter from the government. It was about my right to vote, not conscription papers.

I’m glad to be alive in 2014 rather than 1914. The young men of 1914 would probably disagree. Adventure was in the air. The survivors of 1918 would probably come round to my point of view. They were just glad to be alive at all, I’m sure. To be able to join in the annual rituals of remembrance. Alas, around the world today in Ukraine, Israel, great swathes of Africa and elsewhere, the futility of war is forgotten and ignored. But we will be able to remember them next year.

 

 

 

Home Is Where The Heart Is

There are a few celebrity spots in and around Bournemouth. Robert Louis Stevenson lived, and wrote, here. Harry Selfridge is buried with his wife in nearby Christchurch. But our most famous dead resident is Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, buried in St Peter’s church in the very heart of the town centre. With her mum, her son, he daughter-in-law and her husband’s heart. Not his liver, lungs or other internal organs. Just his heart. Because home, truly, is where the heart is. Her son found his ticker in one of Mary’s desk drawers a year after her own death. Which begs the question. Was Frankenstein a feature of her vivid imagination, or documentation of her own scientific experiments? Probably the former…

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When I first arrived in Mexico, my (now) father-in-law, asked a genuinely practical question. If I were to snuff it, where should my corpse be delivered? It seemed only right, we decided, to pack my bones in a case and post them back to England. I’ve changed my mind since. They can lay in whichever nation they fall. My preference would be Mexico. And to elaborate on my recent post, I would like my tomb in the chosen graveyard to be a bench. It’s a certain way to ensure I will be the centre of attention on Day of the Dead every November. A place for the living to rest their weary bones on my buried bones.

I would quite like to be kept in one piece though. Rather than have bits and pieces of me stashed away in drawers. Having said that, if I meet an untimely end in England, I am on the Organ Donor list. I’m not sure anyone would want my lungs. But I don’t drink an awful lot, so my liver and kidneys should be in good order. You can actually choose which organs you will or won’t donate when filling out the form. It seems a bit fickle to me. If you’re gone, you’re….well, probably not going to notice which bits get pilfered and recycled. But nonetheless, I have left instructions that my eyes are not to be removed, thank you kindly. I’m just a bit squeamish about my eyes.

A Sunny Sunday Bike Ride

Summer is here, the sky is blue, the scent of freshly cut grass lingers in the morning air, the waft of BBQs fills the afternoon air and the evening brings a happy haze enveloping the woodlands along this part of glorious English coastline. It’s perfect for a bike ride! Come along for an evening cycle with me. And with Runkeeper.

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Let me show you Coy Pond, full of carp. And Branksome Chine, one of many chines that run through otherwise concreted neighbourhoods down to the beach. Under the arches. Over streams and brooks. Till we reach the golden sands of Bournemouth’s long stretch of coastline. Currently densely inhabited by foolishly revealed and slowly burning flesh. Maybe it wasn’t the BBQs that I could smell….

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Flower Bay

Isn’t summer just the most fabulous time of year? Here’s a shot I took recently of the bay as it sweeps past Bournemouth to Old Harry Rocks. With early summer wild flowers blooming along the cliff top. I posted this to 500px, where it got quite a few views, likes and faves. I’ve noticed lately that shots I’ve uploaded to 500px have been getting a lot more views than normal. Why, I do not know. I didn’t renew my Plus membership, so I have only the basic free account now. And I stopped creating sets when they changed how sets are displayed on the front page. In fact, it was so ugly I removed all my sets.

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Every now and then I’ll look at the stats page on Flickr too. And every now and again there’s an enormous spike in views. I have no idea why. There is a box showing referrers but they all just come from Flickr. It seems odd that the norm of 500 to 1000 views a day is suddenly and inexplicably interrupted with a 6000+ boom in visitors. But they are all welcome visitors. Especially if they are buying. Which, sadly, they are usually not.

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Bournemouth Wheels Festival

Bournemouth is not one of England’s ancient towns. Far from it. Little more than two hundred years ago there was nothing here but heathland. It’s grown somewhat since its founding in 1810 though, and stayed true to its heritage. That heritage is tourism. The first few villas built on the shores of Bournemouth were put there for visitors, mostly from London, to rent. Bathing in the sea was becoming popular as both as a past time and for its ‘medicinal qualities’. If you visit the area you’ll also notice an abundance of pine trees. They aren’t native to the region, and were planted by the towns founder to cater to the commonly held belief that inhaling the scent of pine was good for you.

Bournemouth isn’t a one trick pony, though. In more recent years, finance has become a key cornerstone of the local economy with JP Morgan, Nationwide, Liverpool Victoria and others investing heavily in call centres and offices in the town. There’s also Bournemouth University, which seems to be growing at an incredible rate. If you see a tower block being built or renovated in the town, chances are its for student accommodation. It’s an impressive story, given that it didn’t even officially become a university until the early 1990s.

This economic diversity is a good thing. An awful lot of England’s seaside holiday hotspots have died over the last twenty to thirty years as foreign trips became easier and cheaper to do. Some towns linger on, but quite frankly many of them should be booked into Dignitas for their own sake. But Bournemouth, along with Brighton and Blackpool, continue to thrive. I’ll argue that Bournemouth has been the biggest success story of the three of them. The town has advantages over both its rivals. It’s a lot closer to London than Blackpool and can feed off a larger and wealthier tourist base. And whilst Brighton is closer still to the capital, its beaches are of the stone variety – no competition for the golden sands a little further west down the coast.

Bournemouth is also a great base to set off from to explore castles, the Jurassic Coast and many fine stately homes. And despite the towns youth, there is history to be had as well. Lawrence of Arabia has a home and his grave a short drive away. Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, is buried in the town centre. There’s Stonehenge and Salisbury with its towering cathedral. For TV buffs, you could always go and see the resting place of Mr Selfridge and his wife near Christchurch.

But most of all, Bournemouth has turned the screw on its rivals with some flagship events. The feather in the town’s cap is the annual Bournemouth Air Festival which is Europe’s largest free air show. Nearly one and a half million visitors come to see the four day spectacle.  To supplement the end of summer airborne extravaganza, Bournemouth has this year introduced a start of summer festival that is more down to earth. The Bournemouth Wheels Festival. Vintage cars, super cars, race cars, monster trucks, stunt bikes and everything in between arrived in town for a three day show in the Bank Holiday sun. Assuming you went, like I did, on the Sunday. And not the Saturday or Monday. Which had less sun, more rain.

You can have a sneak peak at the show in the photos below, or see the full set on Flickr by clicking here. There’s definitely a full days worth of stuff to see and do, including a fireworks display off the end of the pier each night. I hope they bring it back next year. The town was packed, which is a good sign the weekend was successful, so I’m sure it will return in 2015.

 

A Beautiful Illusion

I had my hair cut last week by a lovely chic young lady. I assumed she was from Poland, or Slovakia perhaps. Most European ladies in the UK are from central or eastern Europe. But she was French, it turned out. I should have guessed. She was chic, and chic is French. Her name should have been a give-away too, but maybe I didn’t notice the sign until later. Delphine. Not Delphinski. We chatted a little. More than I usually do. I’m not one for pointless small talk with strangers. I’m not from Europe, after all. Very British, for good and bad.

She likes England. She’d recently given Canada a try, but it wasn’t to be. And she was happy to return to England. And why not? When the sun is out, there is no country on earth more beautiful than England. Her words, not mine. She’s not the first person from foreign shores to say such a thing to me. I am always a little surprised. It’s a bit like someone confessing they came to live in England for the food.

I find these comparisons difficult to quantify. England is no more and no less beautiful than any other number of places on this little speck of rock floating around the universe. The most beautiful scene is the one around you, if you look carefully enough. Although it must be said, the sun does need to be out and shining brightly for that beauty to come to view in Blighty. What does England offer to earn such flattering comparisons though? Our mountains are not terribly high, our canyons are mere scratches in the soil. Our forests were turned into French bashing warships centuries ago. Delphine probably knows that, but she seems forgiving.

We do, however, do green wonderfully well. In summer, England is a blanket of the richest, lushest most vibrant shades of green. Green grass, green ferns, green trees, green mosses.  I’ve eavesdropped on many a conversation on the National Express bus out of Heathrow as we head out of London. Look at the green! Have you ever seen so much green? I soon lose interest in their conversations once I realise they are referring to the surrounding flora.

For us natives, any beauty is largely taken for granted. It’s the same for natives in their homeland everywhere isn’t it? To a certain degree, anyway. For us natives here, the beauty is in the contrast. The contrast of the foreboding greys of winter and the bright sun splashed colours of summer. Sometimes spring works its magic oh so slowly if the climate isn’t favourable. The buds of spring delay, pause and retreat in the cold.

Other years, such as this year, when temperatures are kinder, the countryside explodes into life and colour. The bare branches of Chestnut trees are smothered with new foliage. Cherry blossom blooms. Spring flowers rapidly cycle through snow drops, daffodils and bluebells. And then there is the all enveloping green. But most of all we look forward to a deep blue sky and the almost forgotten sensation of feeling sunrays .

And we abandon the green of the countryside and get straight down to the beach. With a beer. And a barbecue. An English beach can be a beautiful thing. Just settle in to a deckchair, relax and gaze out to sea. Listen to the gulls swirling overhead and the waves lapping at the shore. You could be on any Caribbean beach if you just let your imagination go. Just don’t get into the sea. You’ll ruin the illusion in an ice cold instant.

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