A visual life

This week I’ve been inspired by Kim Manley Ort’s post, A Visual CV, to have a go myself.  There are ten questions, to be answered visually, without words.

I’ve found it surprisingly difficult.  The same image could have answered several different questions, and some of them don’t quite capture what I wanted to show.  With others I felt I’d like to use more than one image to say what I want to say, and then there were all the ones I wanted to use but couldn’t.  But I may be over-thinking it – probably the best way is to make quick decisions and let intuition decide.  Taken as a whole, I think these probably represent me quite well.

If you feel like having a go yourself, leave a link to your own post in the comments.


Who are you?

Marine Lake, West Kirby

Why photography?

Couple with umbrella through fountain

What is your trademark photographic style?

Water, blue and gold

What truly inspires you?

Where do you go when you close your eyes?

Canoes, Norfolk Broads

Where is home for you?

Path, Stapleford Woods, Notts

How would you describe your lifestyle?

Tea for two

What makes a great shot?

Ripples, Lincoln

How do you view the world?

Sky window

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned?

Windchime love


Life is what happens when you’re making other plans


Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans, sang John Lennon, and that’s been amply proven this week. We finally had our offer on a house accepted on Saturday, only for Geoff to lose his job – suddenly and totally out of the blue – on Monday. Now we’re living in a place we wouldn’t have chosen to come to, where we have no work, no friends, no home of our own, and no prospect of getting one until our income is healthy enough to be granted a mortgage. We can’t even reduce our rent by moving to a smaller place as we’d need an employer’s reference for that.

The shock was immense and we’re both still reeling from it. Just when it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel, a b****y great freight train came steaming towards us and flattened all our hopes, dreams and schemes. All of these are on hold now, and both of us need to find work – any kind of work – as soon as we can.

I’ve been trying to apply for Christmas temp work using online forms. This is the only way you can apply for many of these jobs, but they assume a work background that just doesn’t fit with mine. I’ve had so many different types of work, sometimes two or three jobs or self-employed work all at the same time, other times jobs that have overlapped with each other or that involve contracts from several different places. These forms want details – to the day – of when I started and finished each one, plus things like addresses and postcodes for each employer. It’s almost impossible to fill them in sensibly, and there’s no other way to apply. I’ve been tearing my hair out in frustration – and all this just for a minimum wage temporary job in a shop.

Because of various health problems I haven’t worked since I got here and, of course, when we moved I lost all my local self-employed work and contacts. Until recently I simply hadn’t the heart to try to get set up again here, but in the last month or two I’ve begun to feel much better, more positive, and ready to put myself out in the world again. I have endless ideas and plans and schemes, but I’m not too good on the follow-through, and sometimes there seems to be so much that needs to be done before I can get going that I’m overwhelmed by it and end up doing very little at all.

So we’ve come up with a solution. Until he finds a new job, Geoff is going to devote a large chunk of his time to being my personal assistant, and I’m going to do my best to establish some photography-based sources of income. We’ve yet to see how this will pan out in practice, but if it works then it would leave me free to do what I do best – teaching and creative work – and take the marketing, logistics, and practical stuff off my shoulders. It’s a relief to be able to ignore the temp jobs, and one small, bright, spark in an otherwise dark and gloomy future. Wish me luck….

An open letter to estate agents

Green house, Folkestone

We know there are lots of you out there who’re doing a good job.  The one who sold our own house was very good indeed; admittedly we haven’t met many like him in this area yet, but we live in hope. For the rest of you, here are a few things we’ve been bottling up for a while.

If you don’t include a photograph of a particular room, we’re immediately going to assume it needs serious work. This is especially so if you’ve included photos of all the other rooms. What’s wrong with it?, we wonder, it must be really crappy if you don’t want us to see it. When we see a picture of the outside of the house and nothing else, we assume the inside is so scary it would need a total overhaul. Even if this is true, it would be useful to see just how bad it is before we decide whether or not to come and have a look. And that pink and black bathroom isn’t going to be any less of a shock if we haven’t seen a photo of it beforehand.

Please learn some basic photography skills – it’s not difficult and I’m talking really basic here. The most important one is to have the picture in focus and not, as in one case we saw recently, so blurred that it’s difficult to even see which room it is – even the floor plan was so blurred that you couldn’t identify individual rooms. Also try not to make the rooms slope; we assume they don’t really, but you never know……

(If you don’t know how to use a basic compact camera, then I’m available for tutorials at very reasonable rates 🙂 )

All we have to go on are the pictures and information you supply. More photos won’t cost you anything and will help us make a decision that might save your/our/the houseowner’s time and energy. Is that really so difficult to understand? You get paid quite a lot when you sell a house, so five minutes spent putting a few extra photos on the webiste is not unreasonable…….and think of the time it will save you in phone enquiries and visits in vain from people who wouldn’t have gone near the place had they known. Four photographs of a 4-bedroom, £200,000 house is just not enough.

Floorplans help a great deal, and in these days of computer technology are surely not difficult to do. Room measurements are even more important. Telling us it has three bedrooms doesn’t help if it turns out that two of them aren’t much bigger than cupboards.  While we’re on the subject, why do you sell on the basis of numbers of bedrooms anyway?  It doesn’t tell us much about the overall space.  Our old house was about 110 meters square and it was too small for us.  We’ve seen two bedroom houses that are bigger than that, and three bedroom houses that are smaller.  Please – give us the square meterage and we’ll take it from there.

Yes, we know you want to present the property in its best light, but leaving something important out doesn’t mean we won’t notice it once we get there. That quarry, for instance….did you really think we wouldn’t see it? Especially as we had to use the quarry road to get to the house? And didn’t you think that it would be a fairly clear-cut thing as to whether or not a quarry right next to the house would put us off? If we’re not put off by a quarry next door, then telling us about it won’t stop us viewing; if we are put off by it, then viewing the house isn’t going to make any difference. Really, it isn’t.  The same applies to the one with the large pylon in the back garden.

Likewise the room without the window. Yes, I know you called it an occasional bedroom/dressing room but we didn’t realise that meant it didn’t have a window. Windows are quite important to us.  And calling an attic space an attic ‘room’ is a tad misleading – even when it is on the same level as the other rooms – if you have to bend double to get through the door and it has no windows and no internal finishing.

When we phone up to book a viewing, and you know that the property is hard to find, giving us directions would be a good idea. After all, it’s your time that’s going to be wasted too when we don’t turn up because we’ve spent 45 minutes driving around trying to find it. Saying ‘oh yes, we have trouble finding that one ourselves’ does not make us feel any more kindly towards you and refusing – when we ask beforehand – to give us a phone number for the person showing us round only makes it worse.

And to the two estate agents who were asked twice to set up viewings over six weeks ago, and who have yet to come back to us, we wonder how interested you are in selling these houses. As it happens, we’ve changed our search area since then and are no longer bothered, but if I were the vendor I’d be very unhappy if I knew about this, and if we’re selling in the future we will not be using you.

When we come in and ask you for advice, we’re doing it because you’ve seen the houses for sale, you know the area, and you might be able to suggest something we hadn’t thought of or give us some good advice. Putting the number of bedrooms wanted, the desired location, and the price into a computer programme and hitting Send is something we are perfectly capable of doing for ourselves on Rightmove. We want more from you.

When we’re considering placing an offer, please don’t try to tell us that we can’t negotiate on the basis of replacing the bathroom. It’s entirely up to us what we negotiate on; your client doesn’t have to say ‘yes’ of course, but no-one can stop us negotiating on whatever the heck we think is significant to us. Whether or not you think it’s significant is not important. You might be happy to live with a bathroom that’s 35 years old and falling apart, but we’re not. Also, the schoolmistressy approach really doesn’t work for us. We feel we should be treated a little better, as we know there aren’t many people like us around – ie, house sold, mortgage approved and money in the bank waiting to be spent…….if only we could find a house we like.

Do try to be consistent. When I am told by you that the vendor will only consider an offer close to the asking price, it’s confusing when my husband is told – also by you – that the vendor is open to significantly lower offers. Which is it?

We know that advice is often ignored, and we realise that perhaps your client is one of those who has chosen to ignore it. However, please do your very best to get it through to them that because the house was worth X amount several years ago, it doesn’t mean it still is now that the property market is in a downward slide. This might help the surprisingly large number of vendors whose over-priced houses have been on the market for as long as two years.

Similarly, all of the following are very off-putting: leaving clear evidence of bad leaks, carpets that smell, anything that smells, obvious dirt or neglect, one whole room being taken up by a screeching parrot in a cage, renovating a three-bedroom house and putting in a kitchen barely suitable for a one-bedroom flat, renovating a house beautifully but not bothering to put in central heating, long-dead birds on the doorstep, single fathers who present their (over-priced) houses warts and all with paper peeling off the walls and tell us we have to see past that, and…..well I’m sure there will be more. It reminds me of Wendy Cope’s poem about men:

There are so many kinds of awful men –
One can’t avoid them all. She often said
She’d never make the same mistake again;
She always made a new mistake instead.

There truly are so many kinds of awful houses and while we’ll never make the same mistake again I’m sure we’ll go on making new mistakes instead. Estate agents, we really want to buy a house from you – how about making it easy for us?  And you.

Be careful what you wish for!

Everything is going to be alright

Another year, another birthday. Last year on my birthday, I wrote this:

I need a change or a challenge. And not the kind of everyday challenge like earning money and finding work, but something completely new and exciting and possibly scary, that will stretch me out of the complacent, contented shape I’ve recently grown into, even if it’s only for a few hours. I don’t know what it’ll be yet, but watch this space……..

Be careful what you wish for!

The last year has been tumultuous – the threat of Geoff’s redundancy hanging over us for the first half of 2011, then the reality of that, then his mother’s illness and death in November, followed by a job offer in December, then less than six weeks to get ourselves moved 300 miles, our frustrated attempts to fit all our possessions into too small a space, waiting for our old house to sell, and now looking for a new place to buy, not to mention the myriad other tiny frustrations and the strain all of this puts on a relationship between two very stressed people.

I think maybe it’s not too surprising I went into meltdown a couple of weeks ago and that perhaps the last year is simply catching up with me now that I have time to spare. I feel so much more positive now than I did, which is a blessing, but my emotions are as transient and fragile as soap bubbles, appearing and disappearing almost from moment to moment, triggered by the tiniest of events. It’s true that without change I get dull and bored, and I was certainly ready for some, but I’m not sure I’m very good at handling it when it comes.

Life still feels as if it’s very much in limbo. We’ve sorted out the rented house to a point where it’s comfortable and looks reasonably nice, but there are a multitude of small things that haven’t been done because it seems a little pointless when we only expect to be here for a few months. There’s little sense in spending money on nice new curtains when they might not fit our future windows, so we make do with what we have. We’ve hung some of our pictures, but many more lie in the spare bedroom propped against the wall. Our guest bedroom never has been sorted out and has turned into a kind of junk room for the overflow, and it’s unlikely we’ll do anything about that now that we’re hoping to move again soon. Normally I’d have planted flowers and spent time in the garden, but it’s not our garden and I find it hard to sustain much interest in doing anything more than keeping it tidy.

Everything is still a little makeshift, including my lifestyle. I thought it would be wonderful to have all this spare time but I feel so unfocussed and scatter-brained that I rarely achieve much. I thought I’d have fun exploring, and I have to some extent, but without friends to share things with it feels a bit flat. I thought I’d set up some photography workshops and tuition here, but it takes time to know where to take people or where you can find good spaces to hire and I’ve lost a bit of confidence in myself, too, making it hard to put myself out there. I thought I’d get excited about the photographic possibilities of a new place and take loads of shots, and I’ve hardly picked up my camera since I came here. I thought I’d use the extra time to work on my website and online activities, but the more I sit at my computer the less I want to be there and all too often I find myself mindlessly surfing the web. Then, of course, I do a good job in beating myself up about all of this.

Slowly, though, the changes inside are coming to match the ones on the outside. I’m beginning to let go of the idea that Kent is ‘home’ and to see that this is where my home is now. I haven’t made any friends yet, but I’ve met a few lovely, bright, and intelligent people and one or more of those may turn into a friend given time; if they don’t, I can see there will be others who will. And my biggest problem – that this area has never felt like a good fit for me – now looks set to be solved by moving just over the border into North Wales. I’ve found a place I love there, a small and pretty village with several coffee shops, a great restaurant, a very nice pub, a wonderful farm shop/deli, lots of green spaces, and far fewer people to the square mile than you find here. I’ll be able to go for long walks in empty woods and I’ll be that much nearer to the beauty of the Welsh mountains and coast.  I’ve found somewhere I really do love , and I can’t wait to be living there.

And finally, we’ve seen a house we like. It needs work, and the work will have to be done before we move in, but it’s pretty much everything we wanted and didn’t think we’d find all in one place at a price we can afford. I would get the peace and seclusion I love – it’s at the end of a leafy, country lane – and Geoff would get all the space he’d like us to have – it’s a big, four-bedroom house with a huge garden. We’re costing the work at the moment, and hope to put in an offer soon.

Change isn’t something you can rush, or more accurately, getting used to change isn’t something you can rush. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ theory about the five stages of grief is well known, and it seems reasonable that it could also be applied to adapting to enforced change. I’ve been through the anger, the bargaining (yes, OK, I’ll move there but I have to be able to visit London frequently) and the depression, and the next one to come should be acceptance – although, of course, it’s not a linear process but one where you often keep looping back and forth. But I can feel the acceptance beginning to gather and warm me inside, like the good feeling of a hot meal in an empty stomach. I think everything is going to be alright.


Putting down roots

Old Railway tunnel

Roots, and home, and all that that means have been on my mind lately. I’m terribly unhappy at the moment and find it hard to write anything and even harder to muster up any enthusiasm for taking photos.  I feel displaced, out of tune with where I am, and almost as if I’m suffering a bereavement, but of a place rather than a person.  This last weekend I hit a new low and spent much of it in tears, sobbing from a deep, deep place, remembering all the things I loved about where I used to live and missing the friends I used to be able to see.   It’s hard not to see myself as pathetic and inadequate – I know of many other people who move countries and even continents and take it all in their stride.  I’ve been wondering why it’s hit me so hard.

I’ve made a major move before and didn’t feel like this. But that time I was glad to be going, glad to be leaving a marriage that was falling apart and a place where I never had felt that I fitted.  I grew up near Glasgow in central Scotland and lived there until I was nearly thirty, but it never felt right to me.  I loved the Scottish land and scenery with a passion, but I found the towns and villages grey and austere and lacking in flowers, joy and life.  I didn’t fit with the people there either – Glaswegians are wonderfully friendly, funny, helpful, and easy to chat to, but they don’t have much interest in the arts (they regard you as rather suspect and a little bit up-your-own-**** if you do) and they don’t tend towards deep thinking (something I know I do too much of, but it’s who I am).  I liked a lot of people but never felt I could connect with them in any meaningful way.  So moving several hundred miles south didn’t make me feel as if I was being torn out by the roots, as I do now.

After a few years in the south-east, I ended up in Canterbury where I stayed for the next twenty-five and for the first time in my life I felt at home somewhere.  I put down roots there, great solid curling roots that drew in ample nourishment for my life.  I didn’t seem so much the odd one out, which was a huge relief and I was happy there.  It was the kind of place I used to dream about living when I was growing up.  While few places can compare to the drama of the Scottish mountains and coast, I loved the gentle, rolling Englishness of the scenery and the pretty, flower-filled villages and mediaeval towns.  I loved the orchards that grew everywhere and the sunnier, warmer climate.  Over the years I found places that came to mean a lot to me: the green, mossy, RSPB woods at Blean; the astonishingly lovely gardens at Mount Ephraim; the wide empty pebble-filled beach at Sandwich Bay, which was always quiet even on a hot summer’s day because you had to pay a toll to drive on the road to it and where you could park your car almost on the beach; another bay at St Margaret’s where you could buy an ice-cream and watch huge ships sail into Dover harbour; Canterbury Cathedral, where I spent hours with my camera; a secret wild-flower meadow just off the main street; Jojo’s in Tankerton, probably my favourite restaurant ever; Whitstable, with its quirky shops and working harbour and promenade lined with pastel coloured houses; and the list goes on and on.  It physically hurts when I think about these.  It’s early days, I know, but I haven’t found anything here that I love that much yet; it’s a different sort of place here and I’m not sure I ever will.

The thing that has bothered me most is my loss of enthusiasm for photography. I’ve hardly taken any shots since I got here and have had little or no inclination to.  I’ve wondered if my passion for it will ever come back, and at the weekend I even thought about abandoning it altogether.  While it often helps to write about things that trouble me, photography has always been associated with joy for me and I’ve never known how to use it otherwise.  I’ve taken photos because I’m happy, and what I see makes me happy, and I want to make other people happy by giving them – hopefully – something wonderful to look at.  But today I went out for a walk and photographed roots.

The Wirral Way is a cycle/walking track created from an old, disused railway line. In one area the rock has been sliced into and cut away, forming a sort of roofless tunnel of sandstone.  All along its length, trees and plants cling precariously to the rock and small pockets of shallow soil. Like me, they’re trying to root themselves in a place that isn’t quite suited to them.  Some of them manage to flourish regardless; some of them have established a foothold, but remain immensely vulnerable to the elements; some have their roots hanging in the air, looking for something to cling to.  I can identify.

Roots 2

Roots 3

Between a rock and a hard place

This little fern looks so vulnerable.  You can see the run of water that’s both keeping it alive and threatening to wash it away.



Here I stand; tree on rock

Tree on the edge 1

Tree on the edge 2

There’s something terribly optimistic about these little green ferns, managing to thrive but with their roots dangling in mid-air.  They make me think of terrestrial jellyfish.


Hanging roots


View from the Wirral

View over Dee Estuary

Well, here we are on the Wirral peninsula and the holiday cottage we’re in is to die for. It’s immaculately decorated and furnished, and the owners have provided absolutely everything you could possibly want (well, except for a cheesegrater – we have binoculars, wine, a sewing kit, a first aid box, quilted toilet paper, a welcome pack of basic food and the best organised and most comprehensive information pack you’ve ever seen, but no cheesegrater).  The picture above shows the view from the sunroom (rather sweetly referred to by the owners as the ‘sitooterie’), across the Dee estuary to the Welsh mountains.  I could sit and look at this view for ever.  Every evening has brought another spectacular sky and I wanted to post some of the pictures, but I’m having computer trouble again so you’ll have to wait.

Despite the fact we have two laptops with us, I can’t get anywhere with editing the photos and they do need a bit of tweaking to show them at their best.  (The photo above is untweaked and could probably benefit from some small amount of tweakerie, but I had to give you something to look at.)  We have both a Windows and a Mac laptop with us.  The Windows has Photoshop Elements on it, but I only installed it before I left and didn’t realise I would need to enter the product key code when I first used it and of course I don’t have it with me.

Never mind, I thought, I have Photoshop on the Mac – I’ll use that. But have I mentioned that I hate, detest, and loathe Apple systems?  Every time I try to do anything on one, I end up tearing my hair out with frustration.  I’ll happily concede that they’re beautiful objects, but I just can’t use them.  First of all I couldn’t find Photoshop, it wasn’t in the dock and I didn’t know how else to get hold of it.  I fiddled around and eventually got it up, then tried to open one photo.  The photo was on an external hard-drive and I couldn’t get the drive to open.  Then I did, but when I tried to open the image the drive just disappeared.  Finally I got it back again and opened one image in RAW.  At that point I realised that the angle I was viewing the screen at completely changed the way the photo looked, and I couldn’t tell how it would look when seen normally, so I decided to come out and just play a little with the jpeg instead.  Then I couldn’t close Camera Raw because the buttons were completely off the bottom of the screen and it took ages to find a way of resizing the window so I could get at them.  Having exhausted my repertoire of curses by then, I decided to call it a day and go back to Windows.  Which is where I am now…………. anyone want to buy an Apple laptop? – I’m not joking here.

All that aside, we’re hoping we may have found a house. We did a marathon viewing of eight houses in one day, and apart from the one that was stratospherically outside of our price range, only two of them were even worth considering.  I’m really quite shocked about the state some of these places were in; lots of them (including the one we’re interested in) were really dirty and shabby.  Perhaps I’m being naive here, but I’d think you’d want to at least give the place a good clean before you tried to interest anyone in living in it – wouldn’t you?  If we get this one, we’re looking at a good two or three days of cleaning and going round it with a few cans of emulsion before we start moving stuff into it.  It’s scruffy.  The house itself is really very nice, and meets our needs pretty well, at least in the short term.  It’s more spacious than the one we’re in, and moreover it feels very spacious, and it’s nice and light.  It has loads of storage space and bookshelves, and it’s in a very nice little village and quite close to a railway station.  More importantly, it just felt right when we walked in the door.  But it is definitely scruffy.

We’re now waiting to hear back from the owners. We asked for a small reduction in rent, and for the cupboards and sheds to be left completely empty (some of them were full of junk), and the garden to be trimmed and tidied up.    This seemed quite reasonable at the time,  but it’s been a day and a half now and we haven’t heard anything.  To be truthful, we don’t have much bargaining power – we need somewhere to live and we need it now, so we are definitely going to give in if they object – but you’ve got to try.  At the moment we’d probably roll over and wriggle ingratiatingly at their feet if they’ll only just allow us to live in their house – grubby, scruffy and all.  Keep your fingers crossed for us.



Happiness is in the middle

Stone pile, Thingvellir park

A question of balance?

I got four photography books for Christmas (Yay!) and I’ve just started The Photographer’s Vision by Michael Freeman.  He talks about there being two different audiences for photographic work:

“There is the smaller one that is more educated in contemporary art movements, more discriminating, looking for creative breakthroughs, possibly elitist and equally possibly feeling intellectually superior. There is the much larger audience that enjoys the more obvious appeal of clarity, skill and craft, more traditional, preferring to relax in front of art than be constantly challenged…….Neither of these two audiences – let’s call them high-concept and popular for want of anything better – will ever change its fundamental likes and dislikes. The particular photographers and artists being looked at and judged may come and go, but the high-concept audience will always dismiss the obvious, lush, emotional and beautiful in photography, just as the popular audience will always embrace these qualities. The two audiences have a mutual distrust, the view in one direction looking unsophisticated and too easily pleased, the view in the other elitism, pretension, and the emperor’s new clothes.”

He’s right, of course, but why should it be like this? Can’t we be open to appreciating aspects of both and – even more importantly – accepting that there are many forms of enjoyment in this world and that liking one over the other doesn’t make you either inferior or superior? So many things in our culture are framed in terms of either/or, and black & white; the implication is that you’ve got to choose one or the other, and no credit is given to there being many enjoyable shades of grey or a capacity to enjoy both extremes.

Actually, I like being part of both audiences. I love to see challenging art that forces me to think, but I don’t want that all the time – it requires too much effort and gets tiring. I thoroughly enjoy the ‘clarity, skill and craft’ of the other approach and revel in its sheer visual pleasure, but I’d get bored if that was all there was. There’s much in both approaches that I don’t like at all or get anything out of, and there’s much in both that I do. I don’t want to have to put myself in one camp or another – I want to enjoy both and not be put down by either. (As things stand, I do enjoy each of them and am often put down by both!)

If you think about this in terms of food (bear with me here), then one end of the scale might be fish and chips from the greasy spoon, and the other would be a gourmet meal. Much as I like exquisitely cooked, restaurant meals, I wouldn’t want to eat this way all the time and would end up yearning for good old baked-beans on toast. I know this from experience – I used to be married to someone who liked eating out all the time, and I was longing for grilled cheese after a while.  But if all I ever got was comfort food, I’d be very unhappy then too. Most of the time I like the kind of food that lies somewhere in the middle – good home-cooked-from-fresh-but-not-particularly-fancy meals. And so it is with most other things in life – both ends have their own enjoyments but for me happiness lies mostly in the middle, with frequent excursions towards each end.

Being in the middle has always been something of a put-down – middle-class, middle of the road, middle-aged, middling, middle man, Middle England, middle brow. It sounds boring, stuffy and fuddy-duddy.  But the problem is that these phrases imply being rigidly stuck in some dull, unimaginative territory that’s neither one thing nor another. I want to stick up for the middle position.  I think being in the middle can be really stimulating if you enjoy what’s there and also use your position to scoot up and down towards each end of the scale whenever you feel like it. Decamping to one end and totally dismissing the other one seems to me like missing out.

Many (most?) of the people who cling to one end and righteously criticise the other are actually ignorant of what’s on offer. This is probably more true of the non-intellectual end, but not exclusively so. How many people would have given opera a chance before Pavarotti sang at the World Cup? But they found they liked it. And how many people would have read or listened to Auden and enjoyed his work before watching Four Weddings and a Funeral? And if you’ve never played bingo or gone line dancing or watched The X Factor, how do you know that you wouldn’t enjoy it, even if only very occasionally?

Wouldn’t it be good to see a world in which we all have our own preferences and make our own choices, but not out of ignorance, and with courtesy and tolerance for those people who decide differently. But I’m not holding my breath, and in the meantime I’m sitting pretty, here in the middle.

Chester, here we come……

Moon over Chester

Moonlight over Chester

After feeling as if we’ve been stuck in a holding pattern for the last several years, life has suddenly taken off like a roller coaster on speed.  Geoff has had a job offer which he’s accepted and we’ll be moving to the Chester area in February.  So that’s one rental property to find, one house to pack up, four animals and household contents to transport up there, one house to put on the market, numerous friends to try and see before I go, and six weeks to do it in!  Please pass me a large glass of wine immediately……

It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I thought we’d be ecstatic when this happened, but actually we’re both feeling a bit gobsmacked.  There is one little flaw in the whole thing, in that he’s had to take a salary cut of nearly 25% and we’re not sure how we’re going to manage in the long term.  In the short term, there’s the redundancy money to cushion things and house prices up there are considerably lower than they are here.  So that’s a worry.  But it’s a great job that will challenge and stretch him, and he’ll be working in a very small company which is something I’ve always thought would suit him well.

It’s an interesting area. Chester, as you can see from the photo at the top, is a gorgeous place – all mediaeval and quaint while still being a very sizeable town.  We’ll only be 40 minutes by train from Liverpool, an hour from Manchester, and even better, a bit over two hours from London so I can still meet up with my lovely and very much valued friends.  That’s a huge relief as it’s going to take some time to make new ones.  We’re also right next to the North Wales coast and mountains, and not far from the Peak District.  So lots of interesting – and I should think photogenic – places to visit.

It’s really exciting in so many ways, while being immensely scary at the same time. I’ve lived in the Canterbury area now for over twenty years and I’ve loved it here.  I love Kent – it’s a beautiful place with so much to offer and I feel very sad about leaving it and will miss it badly.  But I’ve felt a bit stagnant for some time now and I’m ready for a change and looking forward to exploring a brand new place.  At last life is moving forward for us, and hopefully in the right direction.

Anyhow, it seemed appropriate to share a couple of photos I took when we went up there for the interview, and a few others that were taken in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, which isn’t far away.

Chester windows

Chester window


Chester squirrel: Chester is almost entirely surrounded by its mediaeval walls and, although this squirrel was quite high up in a tree, walking on the walls put us at the same level.

Ceiling, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Ceiling, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight

St George

St George, Lady Lever Art Gallery.  He’s actually standing on the dragon, but there’s only so much you can get in the frame.

Chandelier, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Chandelier, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Coloured gloves

And finally, nothing is so vulgar as a coloured glove…..I hope you’re aware of that.

Lady Lever Art Gallery

Under-whelmed in the City

Sunlit spire

I was in London at the end of last week, doing some private tuition for a youngish couple. It was her birthday, and he had bought the lesson as a gift for her.  We were still in the throes of a very unseasonal heatwave, so I took them to a nearby garden and we sat there in the sunshine and went through the basic theory.

It started out just fine. They were very interested in how the camera worked and how you got it to do various things and when you’d use which settings, and so on, and so forth.  Then we went walkabout so they could apply it all in practice.  They only had one camera between them, so the tuition being her birthday present and all, she was in possession of it.  I took them on my usual route, which covers all sorts of interesting, impressive and quirky parts of the city.  There’s a modern, neo-Gothic building with three larger than life-size horse statues outside, a pavement with the whole history of London set into it in gold letters, a fabulous view of Tower Bridge and the Thames, weather vanes in the shape of fat, juicy fish, the Faberge jewel that’s the Swiss Re building, a shell of a mediaeval church that’s now a beautiful garden, Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror sculpture, the Lloyds Building reflected a hundred times in a facing structure……I could go on, but what I’m trying to say is that there were a million fabulous things all around them.

It all left them cold. Under-whelmed seemed to be the word of the day and she wasn’t very interested in photographing anything, it seemed – no, not even to practice.  The only time they got at all animated was when they started photographing each other. (I went with that for a bit, but there was only so much mileage to be had there.)  They lived and worked outside of London, so it wasn’t a case of familiarity breeding contempt, simply that nothing seemed to float their boat.

That was when I realised that what makes teaching enjoyable for me is when I see students getting enthusiastic and excited.  I love it when they take picture after picture, and badger me with questions about how to get something to turn out right.  They begin to see the city in a new way, and to see the possibilities for amazing images.  The best of them don’t care about getting a little dusty and will happily lie on the ground if it will get them the shot.  Their photographic eyes open up and they’re thrilled by everything they see.  Some of them don’t say much at all, but there’s a gleam in their eye that wasn’t there when we started.  That’s what makes it worthwhile.

So I sat on the train on the way home, feeling a little flat, missing the buzz that I usually get after teaching, and wondering why they didn’t see what I saw and why they needed to know how their camera worked when they were able to see little or nothing worth shooting.  I think we all lost out there.


Sky mirror

The Lloyd’s Building reflected in Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror

Charleston Farmhouse – living at its most creative

Dahlias, Charleston Farmhouse

We visited Charleston Farmhouse, in Sussex, a week or so ago. This was the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who were part of the Bloomsbury group of artists and writers, which included people such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster.

Inside, the house is large and rambling, and just about everything has been crafted and decorated by its inhabitants.  The interior is fundamentally quite shabby, but every surface – walls, floors, fireplaces, furniture – has been decoratively painted.  The furniture is a motley collection of different styles but it’s been covered with decorative designs, and old chairs were re-upholstered with hand painted textiles.  Lampshades are made out of pottery and attached to the ceiling with wires in a Heath-Robinson-ish sort of way.  Every inch of the place displays the creativity of its inhabitants.  Paintings – their own and others – cover the walls, and one room is lined with old books.

It was a place where artists and writers came to stay, to sit by open fires and talk of life and ideas late into the night, and to relax, play and paint in the walled garden and grounds.

What struck me most was what an idyllic life it seemed to be. They did have some money problems – although coming from a fairly gentrified background this was all relative – but they used their creativity to make a wonderful, welcoming home out of what must have been a rather scruffy old farmhouse.  Instead of employing interior designers, or buying expensive furniture, they used their own skills and talents to create one of the most individual places I’ve ever seen.  And they pretty much did whatever they wanted to do there – painting, writing, creating, talking.

They also made a stunningly lovely walled garden. Walking into it through the door in the wall takes you into a magical space – it’s criss-crossed by narrow paths which are almost hidden by the luxurious spilling over of vividly coloured flowers and plants.  In many places the plants grow up to shoulder-height so that you only see the bit of the garden you’re in and the rest becomes an intriguing mystery.  It was:

“a summer garden for playing and painting, an enchanted retreat from London life. As Vanessa Bell wrote in 1936, “The house seems full of young people in very high spirits, laughing a great deal at their own jokes… lying about in the garden which is simply a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples.”

I love that phrase ‘dithering blaze’, don’t you?  It sums it up entirely – a cottage garden of the best kind, an untidy abundance of everything summer has to offer.

I’m sure it wasn’t quite as idyllic as it looks to us now, but I love the idea that these people created the kind of life they wanted, doing what was important to them, following their passions, and making a life where being creative wasn’t a thing apart, but spilled over into every area of their lives.

Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed inside the house, and the garden was so full of people on the sunny August Sunday when we went, that photography on anything other than a fairly small scale was almost impossible.  However, I did manage to get these small vignettes that I hope give a little flavour of how it was.

Sculpture, in Charleston garden

Sunflowers, Charleston garden

Daisies, Charleston garden

Hose, Charleston Garden

Snails, Charleston garden