Daffodils in the breeze at Dudmaston Hall

Daffodils at Dudmaston Hall, Easter 2010 - original, untouched version

As Mr Wordsworth sort of put it, there’s nothing that screams “Spring is Here” here in the UK than a host of golden daffodils.

There are literally thousands of images of daffodils littering the internet at the moment, from masterful macros of every conceivable part of the daff, to bright and beautiful landscapes showing fields of waving yellow heads swooping off into the distance.

So when visiting Dudmaston Hall on the Shropshire/Worcestershire border for an Easter Sunday egg trail I just had to get down close and personal with a small patch of daffs on the hill just below the main house, blowing gently in the breeze, begging to be photographed.

The results were, I thought, okay in their original state, as shown here. But I decided to have a go at processing it using Photoshop, the most popular of the many post-process software packages for photographers.

Now as my use of Photoshop is in its infancy I merely tweaked the contrast, brightness, hue and saturation levels up and down a bit on the original Raw image, and cropped most of the bottom off. The end result is here. I think it’s marginally better than the original.

Had I been more skilled on the old computer, I could have further upped the yellow of the daffodils, got rid of the woman in pink had I so wanted – maybe even increased the number of daffs through some careful layering. I could have improved the sky – it’s a bit dark on one side. I could have even removed the tree altogether so it was just an image of bright yellow on green on blue.

But that would hardly, in my opinion, have stayed true to the original image. If I wanted to invent scenes then I would be practising my painting skills instead.

This will probably come back to haunt me once I am Photoshopping like a pro, but I want my photos to be a record of the life lived by me and my loved ones and of the places I visit, not a falsified version.

“Life isn’t all ha, ha, ha!” a friend’s mum once said, when my pal was complaining about the effort involved in sorting out some domestic task or other. Well, she’s right – and in the same way I want my photos to reflect, as closely as possible, the reality I viewed through the lens of my camera, for good and for bad.

That isn’t to say it’s not fun to create pictures as “art” once in a while. I also have no problem with people layering, enhancing and fiddling with the levels to their heart’s content, as long as they are honest about what they have done.

I went along to a local camera club one night for a competition night and was amazed at the quality on show. I got chatting to the gent who had produced a wonderful picture of the inside of a cathedral. He explained how he had used a long exposure and a small aperture to capture the detail in the ornate woodwork, and how he had carefully timed his shot to maximise the light coming in from the setting sun. I was keen to soak up as much information as possible, with a view to replicating his efforts myself.

I then asked if he had enhanced it much after taking the photo – and he revealed he had spent nearly two hours on this one image to get it “just right”. He had removed a fire extinguisher which had been on the wall, had layered out some shadows on the right hand side, had boosted the brightness here and reduced the contrast there. He had boosted the light from candles at the top of the picture. The result was lovely, and I’ve no doubt an improvement on the original – but is it still a photo or a piece of artwork? Does it matter?

Perhaps I’m just cross. When I adopted photography – or was it the other way round? – some months ago, I hadn’t realised how expensive it was going to be, what with lenses, tripod and a load of other paraphernalia that I don’t yet know I need. But I had also not appreciated how much time was going to be spent sat indoors on the computer, and it is slowly beginning to dawn on me what I have let myself in for.

I’ve been told about a professional photographer in Kidderminster who regularly exhibits his “as taken” shots, completely free of any post processing. They are downloaded and printed off with no additional processing. He instead spends a lot of time framing his shots just-so and ensuring the lighting and exposure are spot on to start with, instead of turning to Photoshop or its equivalents to sort out any anomalies when he gets home.

Whether I follow in his footsteps or go for the more travelled Photoshopping route, I am well and truly hooked on this photography lark. I can’t stop taking photos and feel bereft if I happen across a lovely scene and realise my camera is not by my side.

We are due to go on holiday shortly to the north Devon coast. Normally I would be happily researching places to visit for family entertainments, and checking out the best eateries and pubs . Instead I’m looking up photos on Flickr of the area we are visiting so I can head off to do my own take on an oft-photographed scene. I look forward to sharing the results – Photoshopped or not.



Porky, Stinky and Basil

When I was 16 I went veggie. I had read a stunning series of articles about meat production in the Sunday Times which captured, through words and pictures and graphics, the life and times of farmed animals.

I particularly recall my horror at the incredibly short life of a chick reared for the table, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and dead within weeks. I immediately declared I was never going to touch meat again.

The year was 1984. The Smiths released the anger-fuelled Meat is Murder the following year, with it’s in-your-face lyric:

It’s not natural, normal or kind,

The flesh you so fancifully fry,

The meat in your mouth,

As you savour the flavour,


My conversion was complete. I spent the next 24 years of my life meat-free, although (and all vegeterians will scream “cheat” at me) I did quickly allow fish back into my diet, ostensibly on health grounds. I guess I somehow felt the suffering of fish was acceptable, who knows.

Anyway, I was never a particularly evangelical or fussy non-meat-eater. I didn’t balk at cooking it for other people, nor cast dagger-strewn looks at anyone who dared to tuck into a burger in my presence. I didn’t even make a fuss if mum “accidentally” poured meat gravy over my nut roast.

My husband is a carnivore-extraordinaire. He can do wonderful things with a pork joint or a boring chicken. Our boys have been raised as meat-eaters. I did once sit my eldest, then aged five, down and asked him if he wanted to eat meat like daddy or if he wanted the cute lambs, piglets and chicks to have a long and happy life. He still eats meat.

Then last year I did something I hadn’t done but had often thought about. I tucked into a bacon sarnie. Boy, it tasted sweet. The juices dribbled down the corner of my mouth as I bit through the white crusty bread into the tantalisingly perfect sliver of meat below. Oh. My. God. It was delicious.

I berated myself afterwards of course – but then I got to thinking about why I had abandoned meat in the first place. It wasn’t the killing of animals I had objected to. It was the life they had lived that had turned my stomach. Ergo, if I could stick to free range, locally produced, organically reared meats, surely that would be okay?

There was no stopping me after that. Locally produced sausages, free range pork joints, a leg of lamb, chicken curry – all of this and more was greedily consumed over the course of six wonderful months.

However, this did lead to an interesting dilemma. Did I tell my friends and, particularly, my parents and parents-in-laws, of my change of habit? And if so, could I insist on knowing the provenance of every piece of meat offered to me? Would I not sound like a complete arse if I questioned where they had bought the chicken roasted for Sunday lunch?

So instead, like the proverbial chicken, I opted to say nothing. Instead I lived a weird double life, eating meat at home and reverting to pseudo-vegetarianism when out and about. This reached its zenith the weekend both sets of parents came for lunch. Slices of pork and a morsel of crackling were deliberately left out on the kitchen top for me to secretly pick at, while my plate was piled high with veggies and a quorn fillet.

It was pathetic. I was back to my teen days as a furtive smoker, doing the equivalent of stuffing tissue into a matchbox to stop the contents rattling and developing a passion for Polos.

I also realised I was dangerously subverting the view I had of myself. I prided myself on being a caring, socialist-of-sorts type who didn’t follow the herd and who stood up for the underdog (no puns intended). What I most definitely was not was a selfish, boring traditionalist.

Was I going to let all that teenage angst and noble desire to do my bit to change the world, one meal at time, go down the pan? What would go next? Before I knew it I’d be arguing the case for Phil Collins and Simply Red, and deciding the BNP actually made a bit of sense. It was time to make a decision.

It had to be “all meat, a real treat”, or no meat at all. So now the fridge and freezer are stocked up with veggie options, things made of quorn, and vege mince. But the whiff of bacon gently cooking in the pan is still there, drawing me in….

By way of penance for my wavering, I took some time out yesterday to take some pictures of pigs. I headed off to a nearby pig farm at Mose where I hoped to capture the beauty and intelligence of these lovely beasts. What I found was lots of mud – lots and lots of it – but also some pretty happy seeming pigs. I know diddly-squat about the ideal living conditions for pigs, but this lot appeared to be in piggy heaven, with ample food to ferret about for, lots of space to roam around, and straw-filled homes to shelter in. Occasionally they would look up at me as I knelt to photograph them, and I would gaze into their little piggy eyes to see if I could discern whether this impression was justified or not.

My visit did make me think twice about that desire for a bacon butty. When the urge strikes, I’ll remember looking into the eyes of Porky and Stinky (you can only name them if you’re not going to eat them) and resist, resist, resist!

Stinky, Porky and Basil

Piggy snout

Pigs in mud

Pigs searching for food

Pig's ear...

My Rock n Rolling Folks

I promised to use this blog to catalogue my attempts to mastering the art of photography. Well, this week’s photo is one of my most precious and beloved, but not one I have taken myself.

Despite the indifferent demeanour of both partners, it is a picture that gives me a lovely warm feeling every time I look at it.

The stockings-footed dancer is my mum Olwen, with my handsome dad John. They were snapped mid-twirl sometime in the 1970s, the era of Slade, brown and orange swirly wallpaper, power cuts and bin bags, and that baking hot summer when the tarmac melted.

Nobody is quite sure when and where this photo was taken, but that really doesn’t matter, for what it captures in a single frame is a headful of my memories of mum and dad jiving their way across the dancefloors of Shrewsbury and beyond.

I was born in 1968, so was just a slip of a tomboy through the 70s. I hated wearing skirts, girly dresses, dolls and looking pretty. Yuk. I was usually dressed in either a football kit (Shrewsbury Town FC, blue and yellow) or a pair of my favourite blue jeans with white piping down the side. I dreamed of scoring the winning goal in a Wembley cup final. I was also in love with Donny Osmond and fantasised that he would fall in love with me after presenting me with my winner’s medal. I think I mixed him up with Royalty.

My mum tolerated my tomboyish ways and even my lack of interest in housework, looking smart and having female friends.

But she hated that I was never interested in learning to dance. Saturday mornings, she would grab me by the arm and twirl me around and try to teach me simple jive steps. Without fail I would pull away, grumbling that I was busy watching Tiswas, and she would give up again.

Later that day she and Dad would put on their best togs – Dad in his brown flares and wide lapelled suit jacket, Mum in a swirly skirt and pretty blouse – and they would head off to the Saturday dinner-dance while some teenage slip of a thing would saunter in to babysit me and my two siblings.

It wasn’t the dinner they loved so much – it was the dancing afterwards.

Once the cheese and biscuits and pot of coffee had been consumed, along with a few drambuie and cointreau liqueurs – the same old dialogue would start up. It went something like this:

Dad: “Do you want to dance Ollie?”

Mum: “Did you have to wear that tie with that shirt, it looks terrible.”

Dad: “Ok, but do you want to dance?”

Mum: “Well, I’m not sure I want to be seen with you. You can tell you’ve been painting, it’s still in your nails.” (Dad was a builder).

Dad: “Come on, it’s Bill Haley.”

Mum: “You know I don’t like this one, it’s too fast.”

Dad (wearily): “All right, we won’t dance then.”

Seconds later, Mum (standing up): “Well, are you getting up or not?”

As I got older, I got the chance to go along on some of these Saturday nights out and see what happened next – and every time it would bring a silly lump to my throat. I don’t whether it was pride, or love at seeing them together, or perhaps an early understanding that it was important to REMEMBER THIS MOMENT…

For what happened is that Mum and Dad would transform before my eyes into this two-headed, swirling, twirling dervish, so completely and utterly in tandem.

Wow, they could jive up a storm. Mum always maintained a complete air of indifference about the whole thing – in this picture she looks positively disdainful – and pretended not to notice as the dancefloor gradually emptied and people stood around, mouths open, watching them strut their stuff.

Dad would turn and bend a knee, grab her hand and twirl her into a spin, then catch her, arm round her waist, and continue to spin with her held tight to him. It was magic.

They always got a round of applause at the end. I never once thought they were showing off – I was just bursting with happiness.

My Mum has never been one for showing her love publicly. If Dad tried to give her a cuddle in the kitchen in front of anyone she would invariably shrug him off or tell him not to be so silly – but on the dancefloor, despite her best attempts to hide her feelings, she oozed love for him.

The 1977 edition of the Guinness Book of Records holds permanent testimony to their jiving excellence. There they are, on page 223, under Jiving: “The duration record for non-stop jiving is 53 hours by John and Olwen Abbott at Tiffany’s, Shrewsbury, on 20-22 June 1976.” The record was stolen off them the following year by a Canadian who was allowed multiple female partners. The injustice of it still rankles.

Mum and Dad are still, thankfully, going strong. Dad is badly affected by crippling rheumatoid arthritis, and I think one of the things he misses more than anything is twirling Mum around that dancefloor.

They will have been married 45 years on April 3. Hopefully they will be able to get away for a nice break to a hotel which has its own dinner dance – and maybe they will be cajoled into taking another spin, for old time’s sake.

My mum and dad, John and Ollie, clear the dancefloor

First attempt at Night Photography

bewdley-underarches, originally uploaded by Jane2020.

I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. I tend to hit the wall, energy-wise, at around 3pm most days, when I could happily crawl into bed for an hour or two, if only work and children would allow me such a wonderful luxury.
But with or without my “old lady’s nap” I come scarily alive come nightfall. I am literally wackaday wideawake, and often just as irritating as Timmy Mallett, particularly when everyone around me is winding down.
In the good old days BK (before kids) this second wind resulted in lots of late night drinking and musing on the state of the nation and how to dispose of Thatcher Thatcher Milk Snatcher, while listening to Patti Smith, Kevin Coyne, The Wedding Present, The Smiths and Otis. Nowadays, I tend to use this time to catch up on the ironing.
But last Thursday I joined some new chums on my Recreational Photography course on a night visit to Bewdley, a beautiful little town on the River Severn, just three miles away from my hometown of Kidderminster.
After some false starts, I discovered how wonderfully illuminating photos taken at night can be.
While I find my daytime photos tend to strike a discordant note when compared to my memories of the moment – the skies are never quite blue enough, the detail not deep enough – I discovered that night photography reveals hidden depths, hidden details and hidden secrets that I hadn’t noticed at the time.
This picture was one of my last of the night. I had sneaked away from the rest of the group on the riverbank opposite Southside, a beautiful row of townhouses skirting the water’s edge. On my travels I discovered a steep set of uneven steps leading right into the brown, mysterious water. Perched on my bottom on the penultimate step, I took this image. My tripod was lopsided and I hadn’t been able to get my remote to work so had to press the button to take this picture, so I know it could be sharper. At the time the reflection of the bridge was somewhat muted and barely noticeable, yet when I got home it came magically alive. I plan to pop back one night to try again.
I have been musing on my photography adventures so far with some disappointment. I don’t feel that I have progressed sufficiently. But then I remember that I have spent very little time actively seeking out photographic opportunities. Until starting this short college course, I had only once gone out purely to take photos – the rest of my pix have come about during day trips or family holidays. So I have now resolved to spend at least an evening or morning a week taking photos – and this blog is a good way for me to keep my promise to myself. It will be interesting to see how long I last. I tend to be a bit flaky when it comes to sticking at things…

Hello world! Welcome to my first blog.

I have two adorable sons, both with wildly different personalities. I’ll be asking for your advice on my “evil genius” younger son another time (is it normal for four year olds to threaten to slice your tummy with a laser gun?) but the topic for today’s blog is my eldest.

Aged nine, he is growing up into a really lovely little fella.

But he’s what my granddad would have called “a bit soft”.

He can be brought to tears easily by a harsh word, thinks Dale Winton is ace and one of his favourite Christmas presents was tickets to see Hairspray, the Musical.

He hates being “scruffy”, doesn’t like football because it’s too rough, is kind to his little brother, thinks the merest scratch is a medical emergency, likes to make sure there are candles on the table for tea, and still loves nothing more than climbing into our bed in a morning for a cuddle.

He takes the smallest criticism from any quarter to heart and thinks the world will end if he ever “gets his name on the board” (a warning used at his school for bad behaviour).

He’s not a wimp – far from it. He has scaled Snowdonia and other mountains several times, swims long distances like a fish, likes rock climbing, and will have a go at pretty much anything.

So why do I feel that I’m somehow failing to prepare him well for life? Should I be doing more to “toughen him up”, to give him a harder edge, to prepare him for life’s slings and arrows?

My hubby adores him as much as I do, but gets particularly frustrated at our son’s dramatic reaction to physical pain.

He only has to knock his knee or stub a toe and he reacts like he’s been shot and/or tortured! He howls in pain, sometimes throws himself down dramatically, and generally makes a big show. We have tried being sympathetic, but now we just roll our eyes at him and carry on with whatever we are doing, much to his annoyance.

If I ought to be doing more to harden him up (and I’m far from convinced that I should) how would I go about it? I don’t want to be mean to him, or undermine his self esteem by somehow suggesting he should be different to the way he is.

I would be so proud should he stay just the way he is into adulthood – a gentle, sensitive, kind, funny man.

It’s just that I also want to make sure he is robust enough to deal with life’s hardships when they come. Am I wrong to assume that because he is so sensitive he is also lacking in mental toughness and fortitude? And can mental strength be taught anyway?

Blimey, that’s a lot of questions! Your thoughts would be much welcomed!

Finally, as a case in point – last night he was offered the chance of chopping firewood in the garden and then watching Star Wars with his dad, or coming with me to watch a family friend perform in Carousel. Needless to say, we both woke up with the words of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” still ringing in our ears.