Archive for May, 2010

FADING BLUEBELLS

There is something wonderfully liberating about walking in woodlands. The towering trees stretching up like advanced yoga practitioners towards the taunting sky; the way shafts of sun slice through boughs; the dramatic contrasts of light and dark; the twittering of birds; the scratching of hidden beasts in the undergrowth. It’s enough to turn me all poetic.

I try to make at least a weekly pilgrimage to one of the forests of the Wyre. I find being among the ancient oaks, burly beeches and towering pines is a great place to dwell on life and the universe and everything, to contemplate, to cast aside woes, and to revel in the simple yet incredibly intricate wonders of our amazing planet.

And in the middle of the Wyre forest, if you really are desperate to let it all out, then go ahead – no-one can hear you SCREAM!

Anyway, I find myself with an unusual amount of free time on my hands at the moment. My littlest man has started at nursery school four mornings a week and I currently have a fair bit of time to myself, especially as this freedom has coincided with me deciding I don’t want to “do” P.R. work any more (although always willing to reconsider if the offer’s right!) Problem is, I’m still undecided what to do next. My husband calls my current work-less state “living the life of riley” or “being a lazy cow” (said sweetly) – I like to think of it as taking time out to discover my true purpose and calling. “Only in the midst of silence can we discover our true selves.” Someone must have once said that, surely?

Sorry, I’m digressing again. I’m easily distracted these days. It might be early onset dementia. Or I might be pre- menopausal, and therefore set for an early descent into night sweats, forgetfulness and wrinkly hands.

Where was I? Oh, yes, extolling the virtues of walking in pretty woodlands, with time on my hands, no deadline approaching, no work woes to clutter my little head. And of course it’s also a great place for taking photos.

So this short blog is just to give me the opportunity to post up a few pix taken this weekend in Wyre Forest, near the Discovery Centre, while out for a short walk with my youngest (the evil genius one, as opposed to the good genius one).

We spent a very pleasant two hours in the park, eating icecream and walking the yellow trail, following a series of “egg-straordinary” information posts.

As usual when out walking, we had to go off trail, thereby following one of the many Wrekin Mountaineering Club/Bob Mitch-isms  by which we live our lives. In this case, “sheep follow tracks – lions make their own.” This philosophy has been known to lead to people landing in trouble (falling off cliffs, getting lost, tumbling into hidden mineshafts) but on this walk our only risks were from hidden tree stumps or dog pooh, so it was a risk worth taking.

(Incidentally, another Bob Mitch-ism, often cited when a late night party is getting out of hand, is: “He who hoots with the owls can’t hunt with the larks” – but this one has been proved wrong so many times as to be deemed invalid.)

On our little sojourn we came across the last remains of the bluebells, and I did my best to capture their fading blueness against the overwhelming green of the groundcover. I was advised to visit Shrawley Woods as soon as possible, where the show of bluebells has been particularly wonderful, so maybe I will squeeze that in to my busy, busy working week. Anyway, must go – it’s time for my pedicure. Life is hard.

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TWITTERING AMONG FIELDS OF RAPE

Rape flowers

I am what is known as one of life’s “flitters”. Or, as my mum used to say, “jack of all trades, master of absolutely nothing.” Or just downright lazy. When the going gets tough, I’m first at the exit.

If I can’t master something pretty much instantly, or if I sense that continuing involves a degree of effort and pain, then I will usually find some excuse or other to abandon ship.

This flaky approach to “knuckling down” explains my inability to speak any Italian beyond ‘ciao bella’ and ‘il mio asino a guasto’; or to have got beyond mastering a shaky rendition of “Hong Kong Garden” on any of the five instruments I’ve attempted to learn. This includes recorder.

If something does manage to grab my attention for more than a nanosecond, I do tend to embrace it rather too wholeheartedly – and inevitably run out of steam long before the finish line.

This loving embrace quickly turns to indifference and ultimately hatred – ergo, my short lived love affairs with wild camping, house renovation, growing vegetables, running (currently rekindled), having a dog, blogging (still at early lust stage) and Iain M. Banks sci fi novels (don’t ask).

Imagine my delight then when I finally got round to activating a Twitter account last week. I thought it was going to be hard for a Luddite such as I to master, but I found it incredibly easy. And what a buzz!

Some of my favourite media writers, comedians and indie pop stars are regular Tweeters – and now I too could join the armies of followers hanging on their every word.

I am now following 67 people – pretty much all of them minor celebrities, indie pop stars, media types, comedians and a couple of politicians, and almost all of them London-based. Most of the people I follow seem to know each other and appear to watch an insane amount of telly.

In return I am being followed by 11 people – these include one friend who never uses it, a couple of record labels who want to promote their artists, and weird people from Japan who have discovered me through random generators.

I have fallen out with my husband, who got so sick of trying to get my head out of my phone or computer that he threatened to divorce me (by text, no less – he claims he tried to tell me to my face but I was too busy laughing at the latest witticism from @gracedent). The kids have asked if there’s any chance they can have some tea tonight “or will you be too busy again?”

I’ve had three direct “contacts” – where I’ve engaged in a conversation of sorts with people I am following. For the record these were with @campbellclaret (former Labour spindoctor Alistair Campbell) @tracey_thorn (one half of Everything But the Girl, who provided the soundtrack to my life through much of the 80s and early 90s) and @martin_carr (former leadman in 90s indie pop band Boo Radleys, now solo, making luscious music).

I have attempted to engage with a few other people by sending witty retorts to comments they have posted, only to be IGNORED. (I mean you, Stephen Fry, Boy George, various comedians.)

And that’s the unnerving reality of Twitter. It is essentially a small nucleus of celebrities, pop stars and media movers and shakers, each with thousands upon thousands of followers, being pursued avidly by the rest of the Twitter community. We circle around them, desperately tweeting undying love, jokes, or trying, like me, to be aloof & witty and so demonstrate that I am somehow ONE OF THEM.

My tweets so far include the following:

“Furry Vengeance = rubbish movie of the year. Nasty developer v nature shtick. HILARIOUS. Kids seem happy. They r easily pleased.”

“Is it too early to start on the vodka?The kids won’t notice, I have drugged them with pineapple upsidedown cake & Wipeout.”

And, in response to Alistair Campbell revealing that his last thought before being anaesthetised before an operation was of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams:  @campbellclaret Thought u were meant to think of yr nearest&dearest before going under. Oh, right. You poor man.

I’m also following Ed and David Milliband (didn’t want to show favouritism at this stage) and have signed up to @nickclegg and @downingstreet by way of political balance.

Twitter is a stalker’s dream come true – an open window with the curtains flung open, and a great way to boost your name dropping potential.

It can also be a force for good. The most followed celebrities regularly post up appeals or direct followers to news reports or websites to highlight human rights abuses, missing people or worthy causes.

Twitter has exposed ills and raised awareness of injustices – for example, an anti-BP ad which had been rejected by the Financial Times yesterday was tweeted and facebooked across the world within minutes.

Record companies, bands, book sellers, photographers and the like use Twitter to reach their fans direct, offering followers the chance to buy records, books, concert tickets and so on first. Only last week Lucy Mangan, a Guardian columnist and author, offered to post a copy of her new book direct to the first person to tweet her back.

It can also, I am told, be a great way to link up with like minded people locally, especially if you have a special interest or hobby. This I have failed to do so far, despite searching by location – so if there are any Kidderminster/Worcestershire based tweeters out there who want a new friend to follow, tweet me! @janemomma

Then again, you might not want to bother – for after a full on week I fear I am out of lust with Twitter already. It’s like shouting into a black hole. Nobody can hear you. I will be advised, I’m sure, that I need to follow more and more people, and so encourage more people to follow me, to become a real part of the community, but I already feel my indifference rising.

You know that feeling that life is short…well, I’m beginning to have that thought whenever I consider checking my Twitter account or clicking on the Tweetdeck app on my phone. Life probably is indeed too short to be twittering it away with people I don’t know and who don’t care about me. Just think, I could instead be on the phone or even spending actual time with people who actually matter to me. But then again, they wouldn’t be able to tell me what Al Murray had for lunch, nor where was the best cafe to eat in if you happen to be in Sloane Square. Mmm. It’s a tough call.

Anyway, in between Twittering on about nothing much to nobody, I also picked up my camera again. My photography had reached that stage of indifference, mainly because I had come to that moment where I felt I had to either give myself over to it completely or back off.

My gut instinct, as you can guess, was to back off, retire and give up on it. After all, life is short, etc, etc, and maybe I didn’t have the time to dedicate to it, nor the skill to make it worthwhile. It will certainly not pay any bills.

But then I realised I missed it – so I slung the camera in my car when I went to drop my son off at the in-laws for the day. On the way there I couldn’t help but notice the stunning yellow fields of rape dotted among the green and brown between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth.

So on the way back I pulled into a country lane and spent a happy hour walking around a farmer’s field, before heading off and stopping again at a field where I could not only capture more rapeseed scenes but also photograph my son’s favourite tree – the lightning tree – so called for obvious reasons.

It cheered me no end when I got round to sorting through them and putting them on the computer yesterday. I hope they make you feel sunny and warm too! Photography – my current favourite waste of time. Beats twittering hands down.

Field of rape, near Bridgnorth

Field of Rape, near Kidderminster

Oscar's lightning tree by a field of rape, near Dudmaston Hall

Rape flower in field

PUGIL STICKS – MY FOUR YEAR OLD’S ELECTION REMEDY

My four year old has an amazing brain. Like a sponge, he seems to suck in everything he sees and hears, then regurgitates it all in a confused splurge.

This often expresses itself in bizarre imagined violence or threats which verge on the psychotic, which of course causes me untold worry. Only last night he threatened to squeeze his brother’s head until his brain oozed out of his eyes.

I was reading a lovely bedtime story to him on Thursday – the fabulous The Snail and the Whale.  At the end of this joyous tale of friendship and derring-do I asked him if he had any questions about the book. He looked thoughtful for a moment before asking: “Which would be the worst way to die – a chick hatching in your stomach which pecked a hole through your heart; or having a spoke which gave you a fire in your brain?” We decided death by chick was probably the most vile, though might also be quite ticklish.

Where all these thoughts originate is anyone’s guess. I can already hear the moral majority decrying the fact that I allow him to watch TV programmes aimed at older children. Horrible Histories, an absolutely brilliant CBBC programme, is a show he watches regularly with his brother, and which includes features about bizarre deaths and scary battles from times of old. The Simpsons also features scenes which are decidedly unsuitable for a pre-schooler – particularly the carnage inflicted on Itchy by Scratchy. And that Government stroke advert has clearly had an impact, even if my son mishears it as a part of a wheel.

But apart from these rather worrying observations, he also demonstrates a fabulous knack for seeing through complicated scenarios and coming up with a simple solution.

Which brings me onto the election, and specifically the hung parliament outcome. Before the election my four year old asked what was happening. In my best teacher-speak, I told him it was called a general election and it was like a big football match. There were three main teams – the reds, the blues and the yellows – and each one had a captain who wanted to become prime minister. “All the grown ups in the country will vote and the captain with the most votes becomes the prime minister,” I explained confidently.

The day after the election, he asked me if the reds (his favourite colour) had won. I explained that none of the teams had won – well, the blues kind of won, but only just. Now all the captains were having a chat to try to decide who would become the prime minister, and the blues and the yellows or the reds and the yellows might join together to become the…well, the purples or something.

At this point he did his thoughtful face again. “They should just have a fight. On a giant platform up in the sky so everyone could see them. And they could have huge sticks and hit each other with them until one of them fell off. The one who fell off would be splatted. Then the winner would become prime minister. And he might use his laser eyes to help the other one come back to life.”

“Erm, a bit like Gladiators you mean, with pugil sticks?” I asked him.

As I avidly follow the news and regularly update my Guardian and Sky News apps on my phone, waiting hopefully for any sign of a Lab-LibDem pact, I can’t help thinking his idea makes a lot of sense. After all, we want our prime minister to be agile, strong willed, sure-footed and fearless – all traits required to win the pugil stick battle on Gladiators. How about it, Clegg, Cameron and Brown?

On the same theme, my fellow Wyre Forest inhabitants have helped turn the entire county of Worcestershire a fetching shade of blue. We now have a new representative in Parliament – the wonderfully coiffured Conservative Mark Garnier (“because he’s worth it”). His election marks the end of the Independent era of Dr Richard Taylor, swept to power on a wave of local anger about the downgrading of Kidderminster Hospital back in 2001.

I’m not entirely clear how much Dr Taylor has achieved for the constituency since then, though I’m sure there are plenty of people who will tell me. But he seemed to be a thoroughly decent man, the type of person who would do his utmost to help deserving people with a problem to solve, and who genuinely wanted the best for the folk of Wyre Forest. He demonstrated no clear allegiance to one party or another, instead weighing up each issue in turn, and was one of only a handful of MPS who emerged unscathed and with his reputation untainted by the expenses scandal. I imagine he is sorry to be missing out on the current shenanigans, when I’m sure he would have been courted by both Tories and Labour desperate to count on his allegiance.

Now he’s off into retirement – but if he’s ever short of something to do, he could always help my son lobby for political reform. Together they could devise a sports-day style event for the next election. All the MPs could hang out together in their team shirts in huddles around a windswept athletics track, while their aides handed out jaffa cakes and orange slices. They’d all get a medal, wherever they finished – after all, it wouldn’t do to be too competitive. Sounds like a giggle. And of course it would all culminate in that face-off for the PM’s job. Hang Tough, anyone?

My four year old models the outfit all MPs could don for the election sports day

Why I Take Photographs – A Discovery!

Why exactly do I bother to post my photos online or show them directly to friends? I say it’s because I want to improve, I want to see how others judge my “artistic work”, and particularly because I want more experienced and talented folk to point me in the right direction.

I have realised that this is actually complete and utter rubbish. All I want – and I mean ALL I want – is for people to tell me a picture or set of pictures is great, fab, whizzo and wonderful. And, ergo, by association, so am I.

This sad reality dawned on me rather pathetically after I posted some pictures from my recent sojourn from Kidderminster to sunny Woolacombe. After spending quite a lot of time downloading and sorting through untold gigabytes of photos, I selected about 40-odd landscapes to put on my facebook page and on my flickr site to guage reaction. I was met by deafening silence.

In the hours after posting them I regularly checked the pages for updates and comments, perhaps even a personal message to say something like: “These are great, I didn’t want to sound too gushing on your page but they are the best photos I’ve ever seen in my life, have a prize.” Instead I found diddly squat. Nada. Nowt.

Eventually, like, HOURS later, a few people kindly commented on two or three pictures, and one even posted the link to my pictures on her own page (thanks Tanya!).

But (and this reflects very badly on me, people, not you) the damage was done. I decided the pictures that I’d thought would elicit gasps of appreciation were probably all just useless and dull after all.

For this confession I apologise. It is not nice to feel you are responsible for someone else’s happiness, particularly when you hadn’t even realised it! And, as I say, it reflects very poorly indeed on my own self esteem regarding my photographic talents that someone failing to click on a “thumbs up” button on Facebook could bring me down.

I would add that this feeling of Abject Misery passed very quickly and was indeed swiftly cured by my husband telling me in no uncertain terms to “get a life, facebook saddo” and pouring me a double vodka.

I have now revisited said pictures and realised they are, after all, just a nice set of holiday snaps at a beach. This is not me being self-deferential or putting myself down after the fact (indeed, I still think several of the shots are lovely and am even framing some to adorn my walls) but I now appreciate they are fantastic to me because I WAS THERE.

Just looking at them on my wall or on the computer transports me back to that beautiful beach, at twilight, any one of three nights we spent down there watching the sun set.

There was hardly a soul around except for the surfer boys in the ocean, trying desperately to catch the last tiny waves;  the odd dog walker; and my little family.

The boys were happy making a platform in the dunes from which to do somersaults and jump into the sky; my gorgeous hubby was happily cooking up a storm on the barbecue while sipping a beer; and I was contentendly snapping away with my camera, glass of red in hand. The chilly breeze forced us occasionally to huddle together behind the windbreak in a happy heap, from where we watched the sun tumble out of the sky into the sea. I had never realised before quite how dramatically the sun plummets at nightfall. It quite literally disappeared before our eyes – one minute a ball of fire, the next a purple haze trailing over the horizon.

So, that’s why I like photography, and why I want to continue to take photos. If I’m going to have cherished memories of a place or moment in time, the photograph that accompanies it may as well be as good as it can be! And the actual art of taking a photo is extremely satisfying – I like going off into my own little world to focus my mind on something specific.

And this realisation, dear friends, is a blessed relief. I feel like I have been released from a torment that was gathering pace in my soul.

For weeks I have been forcing myself out to take pictures of, well, anything really, in the desperate quest for a photo that would prove to me that I could make the grade, that I could be a contender, that I had a photographer’s eye, an artist’s instinct, a sensitive touch.

And now? Now I feel free, free, free! Now I feel that I can accidentally leave my camera at home when I go for a walk in the woods without suffering moments of desperate anguish that this might be the day I see “the shot”. I can spend under £100 on a new tripod instead of the £400 one I’d seriously considered as a “must have” if I was going to take this photography lark seriously. I don’t have to buy a macro lens so I can take pictures of little biddy insects and flowerheads that I can’t even identify. Ah, bliss.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to take pictures and am still going to bore my facebook friends with the odd album of snaps. I’m still going to meet up with my new photography friends for the odd shoot. I’m still going to go along to my local camera club when I get the chance to pick up tips. And I’m still going to try to learn more, get better and have fun with my hobby.

But I won’t feel quite so desperate if it all goes wrong and, especially, if what I like doesn’t meet with the approval of anyone else.

It feels good, this freedom.

(To see the rest of my landscapes from Woolacombe visit my flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/fab2010/  You don’t have to leave a comment!!!)