Posts Tagged ‘ Worcestershire ’

Sunny Day

only cloud in the sky

It was nice today, wasn’t it? This series of pictures was taken today in my back garden. It’s a rather unloved place; it lacks order or definition. But on a day like today it is a great place to hang out.

Eldest son and his dad spent the previous night in Hurcott Woods on a survival adventure with Wyre Forest’s rangers. The boy came back a man; full of tales of derring do, tree felling, sleeping on a bed of ferns under a hastily constructed shelter, burning sausages and fighting off bats and mice.

By the time they dragged their exhausted bodies homeward this morning, me and littlest were already engaged in our own battle against the encroaching weeds and ivy that have joined forces to strangle the life out of anything remotely recognisable as a flower in the back garden.

Three hours, two tip runs, busted nails and hedge-backwards hair later, and I was ready to down tools. It looked alright. I probably won’t do any gardening for another two months, but at least today we got to enjoy freshly mown lawn, tidy beds and neatly coiled hosepipe.

Watching the kids squealing in and out of the paddling pool and playing tig; and joining in with the lego-building and odd game of tennis; got me all nostalgic. This was what I used to do when I was a kid, when the sun shone and the summer holidays stretched endlessly ahead – it is what I hope my grandkids will do too. We had nowhere to be, noone to see – just a lovely simple day. The tunes we put on reflected the nostalgic mood – Cafe Bleu, Boat to Bolivia, Architecture and Morality, Rattlesnakes – interspersed with some Nick Drake and Scott Matthews. As I said, very chilled, very simple.

Just a walk up a hill

One of the reasons I started this blog was to chart my progress taking photographs, while also trying to get into the habit of writing regularly for pleasure. I hoped I’d develop my own style of writing along the way.

As it’s turned out I haven’t done much blogging about photography, though I have usually managed to squeeze in a picture or two. This one won’t be any different!

Usually I don’t know what I’m going to write about. Sometimes, as a result, I end up confessing some deeply held opinion or thought, and can end up exposing myself more than I intended to.

Today I’m going to write about going for a walk. Can’t possibly be anything confessional about that, surely?

Can I warn you at this stage that this was not a special walk. I’ll go further – it was quite an uneventful walk. In the grand scheme of things, it probably wouldn’t even make it into my top 1,000 walks ever.

I did not go to the North Pole, or Everest. I didn’t walk a marathon (that’s in May). I didn’t walk on a tightrope or while balanced on an elephant’s trunk. It was just an ordinary walk up a hill and back down again.

I didn’t bump into Robert Plant again, or share a beer with Johnny Depp (again?). I didn’t fall over, or happen across a family of leopards drinking milk out of urns of gold, or anything that I’d tell you about if we met up for a drink.

But sitting here and reflecting on my little ramble – on the things I saw, the people I met – I realised how blurry brilliant it had actually been.

I like facts and bullet points, so here’s that walk in bullet points.

  • I exchanged greetings with 10 people, including six dog walkers.
  • I had conversations ranging in length from 30 seconds to five minutes with a total of eight more people, all of them strangers. They included a widow, a former steeplejack, a historian and a former Scout leader. I learned these things in the course of our brief chats.
  • I discovered that a beautiful stone tower that could be just seen through the trees was a folly in the grounds of Hagley Hall that had just been repaired. It could be visited when the hall was open.
  • A woman, I think called Elly, had been found hanged in a tree near the folly in the 18th century, and graffiti nearby referred to her as a witch. The graffiti keeps being redone, no matter how often the authorities scrub it off. Spooky.
  • Apparently a shop in Selly Oak would do me a great deal if I wanted a new settee. I can’t remember its name.
  • I saw a bird of prey scouting for food. It was gliding on the thermals nearby, the only thing visible in the sky. Apparently it was a buzzard.
  • I walked 4.5 miles in just under two hours. Obviously this would have been more if I hadn’t stopped to talk so often. Or take photographs. Or just have a rest.
  • I stroked four dogs, including a dalmatian and a westie. One of them was particularly excited to see me and left a big paw mark on my nice skirt.
  • I saw a tractor, two pushbikes, a plane and a helicopter.
  • I had one wee. In a bush. Nobody saw me (that I know of).
  • I carried a camera bag with some lenses, a bottle of water and a banana, my phone and some cash. I drank half the water. I ate all  the banana.

So, an ordinary little walk? Mmmm – maybe not.

I happen to think that, on reflection, all that interaction – with other humans, with nature, with animals – is pretty amazing and wonderful and good.

I used to take human interaction for granted. As a journalist all I ever did was meet and talk to and write about people all day, so the only people I wanted to spend time with outside of work were my nearest and dearest. My outlook has definitely changed now I mostly work and play at home. I’ll happily talk to anyone!

I’m one of those people who always chat to everyone who crosses my path. I know my milkman, which pub he goes to and the state of his marriage. I know that my postie was an ex footballer forced to give up his beloved career because of a knee injury which still grieves him. I have a cup of tea with the window cleaner when he calls round. (No, I’m not a desperate housewife and no, I’m not having affairs with any of them…I just have the time to share a few words these days!) It’s nice. People are nice.

So, back to that walk. I’m pretty sure that if I was working again in a busy office, and had snuck off for a walk up Clent Hills for some peace and quiet, I would have found the people who initiated these brief conversations intrusive and annoying. Instead they touched my life, however briefly, and I probably did the same to theirs.

Clent Hills, where I took my walk, is just a little mole’s bum of a mount, jutting up about 300 metres over the West Midlands conurbation. It’s hardly Ben Nevis or Mont Blanc.

If you look eastwards from the top, it is said you could (if the earth wasn’t so curvy) see all the way to the Urals in Russia, as there is nothing bigger in the way. I’m not sure I believe this, and can’t be bothered to google it to find out.

It’s a really easy place to get to on foot, with car parks on two sides which leave you just a 15 minute walk from the top. As a result there is always a slow but steady stream of dog walkers, families with little kids and people who might struggle to climb anything bigger.

To the north and east, the city of Birmingham and the Black Country towns around it are spread out. To the west, the Malverns and the rest of Worcestershire are hazy shadows. The Wrekin and the Long Mynd hills of Shropshire are clearly visible from here too.

There are high rises, factories, smoke-gushing chimneys, street upon street of terraced homes, grand country estates, retail parks and four lane highways.

There are also miles of countryside; of trees of every hue and shade; fields of crops; historical buildings and ancient rocks.

There’s a wooden seat I like to sit on, just below the standing stones that guard the view.

Whenever I sit here and look out over the homes and workplaces below, I like to think of all the thousands – no, probably millions – of people, beavering away at their computers or stuck in traffic, watching their telly or doing the hoovering. This usually makes me smile to realise I am up here and not down there, among them.

I also think about the babies breathing their first breath, and the poor souls gasping their last. There are at least six hospitals down there, so there will be lots of both.

I also usually take out my camera about here. On this little sojourn I managed somehow to take about 100 pictures. None were of the people I met (I’m not that brave yet).

Some were of the views, some of the standing stones, some of the toposcope. I played around for about 20 minutes trying my damnedest to get a picture of the standing stones reflected in a little pool of water on the toposcope, 20 metres away. I don’t think I quite succeeded – longer legs or a step ladder might have made it possible; more technical skill would have certainly done the trick.

I’ve attached a few of my favourite images of the day. Just like my walk, on first inspection none of the images are all that special. They won’t grace the cover of a calendar or the walls of Ikea. But they make me smile. They capture a moment. They’re just part of everyday life. Like all those strangers I met.

A New Beginning – and Golf Balls

I tend to write my blog while I’m either a, overtired; or b. slightly inebriated. Tonight I’m both. I’m guessing this can affect the quality of my ramblings, so I apologise. This too will be a disjointed affair.

I have spent the evening contemplating my future. This is a very useful exercise while feeling upbeat and optimistic. At times like this I remember that my potential is immeasureable; that I am capable, bright, witty and confident; and, with effort and derring-do on my part, I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. I vow to always seize the moment; to act, not procrastinate; to live, not exist.

This activity is less useful when in a melancholy mien, when the unknown, the unfamiliar and the challenging become things to avoid, run from and make excuses about. If I’m honest, I think that’s what I’ve been doing recently – looking for the easy option, rather than opting for something that will truly test my ability, my stamina and my guts.

It might all go pear-shaped, might all end in tears, but this time I’m going to ignore the naysaying section of my brain and focus on the bright and breezy zone which tells me to go for it; nothing ventured, nothing gained; and my favourite lazy cliché – feel the fear, and do it anyway.

So, with thanks to input from trusted friends and some very helpful mentoring from someone who has been there and got the t-shirt, I have taken the first steps today towards launching a new internet-based venture. Not much to tell at this stage but I have bought some domain names, sketched out some logos, straplines and content ideas, and have a clear idea of what I want to achieve. Now I’ve just got to knuckle down and make it happen.

At the same time I’m also speaking to “people” – they are suitably shady – with a view to turning something else I’ve been doing in a voluntary capacity into something more substantial. It’s all looking good and could be a really positive beginning, so right now I’m feeling scared, apprehensive, doubtful – but mostly excited, excited, excited!

I’d forgotten what it was like to do something for myself, all by myself, and I can’t wait to really get started. Financially, both of these ventures could flop – but I believe in both of them, so here goes!

My other half Richard is being his usual supportive self and is not remotely concerned that pursuing these ideas might mean I won’t be financially contributing to the household for a while, despite our tight budget. His first question to me is always: “Will it make you happy?” If I say yes, I think so, he will go out of his way to help me make it happen, whatever it is. If I waver before answering, he tends to suggest I think about it again. To Richard, life is pretty much black and white; it either makes you happy, or it doesn’t – and if it doesn’t, what are you doing it for?

We all have to endure some things that don’t fill us with joy, of course – much of life is mundane and routine after all – but his point is that if it isn’t taking you to a happier place, or doesn’t allow you time to enjoy the good things in your life, then you really are wasting your precious time. Management gurus refer to the “golf balls and sand in a jar” effect. For those of you who’ve never had to endure management bulls**t seminars, it goes like this: the golf balls are the good things in life that you love doing (spending time with your kids, playing football, going to the seaside, dancing to loud music, whatever…) and sand signifies the “rest” of life (household chores, being at work (unless this is one of your golf balls), washing the car, doing the shopping, etc). If you put the sand in first and try to squeeze the golf balls in on top, you won’t get many in the jar. The trick instead is to cram as many golf balls in as possible, and let the sand trickle in between. I’m sure you’ve got the message, but just in case: fit the necessary evils around the good times, not the other way round.

Thinking about Richard’s simple outlook on life takes me back to the first time we met. Rock House was the journalism training centre in the heart of leafy Wolverhampton where we were both trainee journalists, aged 21 and 22.

We were among 12 wannabes who had been selected from more than 1,000 applicants for a prestigious year-long internship, in the dimly distant days when the newspaper industry had money to burn. Our number included a lovely ex-Wolves footballer Robert (if he ever made a mistake his first news editor thought it hilarious to storm out of his office and issue him with a red card); a vegetarian who only ate Pot Noodles laced with vodka; a religious zealot; a mad teenager who threw tantrums; and two old people (they were over 30).

For that first social gathering, one of our number, Sarah, sat cross legged on a pub table, espousing the merits of Marxism and how she saw it as her job to spread equality through journalism. Richard, an ex public schoolboy who lived in a country house with a swimming pool, suggested all nations would actually be better off under dictatorships and that all girls should be sterilised at birth, with a reversal only if they passed a state parenting test. The battle lines were drawn. I then spent an uncomfortable few weeks trying to deny any interest in “the fascist”, as he was dubbed.

Two months later he threw a fancy dress party at the house in salubrious Richey Street in Wolverhampton that he shared with his best mate, also Richard. They lived in the coldest house I have ever had the misfortune to visit. On entry I was always handed a jumper and told the heating could not be switched on “because we are on a budget”. I think the house was kept cold deliberately to encourage women visitors to get into bed. Funnily enough there was always enough cash for beer.

Anyway, I turned up at the fancy dress party as a pirate, complete with false beard, eye patch and false leg. By this point, our relationship had defrosted – I quickly realised he was a lovable wind-up merchant rather than the awful Toryboy he liked to imposter.

At some point in the evening we ended up in the same room, slightly drunk, my beard by now askew, my eyepatch lost. Romantic as ever, Richard chatted me up by post-it note. I still have them. He even asked to kiss me by post-it. Then someone wee’d into a sinkful of washing up and Bugs Bunny had a fight with Cleopatra and the moment passed.

Somehow, that innocent moment led us to where we are now – 20 years together, married, two beautiful kids. He still makes me laugh every single day. And he still occasionally writes me a post-it note, just for old time’s sake.

And finally…

As usual, this blog has absolutely nothing to do with photography, even though it was originally set up to follow my attempts to become a better amateur snapper. As probably every photographer and camera club in Wyre Forest and beyond knows already, judging by yesterday’s turnout, a field of poppies has burst into life along the Bewdley bypass, just beyond the West Midlands Safari Park. When I turned up there last night it was peopled by lots of folk with very fancy cameras, long lenses and tripods. My little lenses seemed pretty paltry by comparison, and I was bereft of a tripod and a zoom lens, thanks to foolishly breaking the former and dropping the latter (breaking it also). But I had an hour to kill so did the best I could. Hope you like one or two of them. More on my flickr account if you’re interested.

And finally, finally…come on Ingerland! Roll on Sunday. England into the last eight of the World Cup? That will definitely be a golf ball moment.

Field of poppies, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Field of poppies, Bewdley, Worcestershire

Poppies in field, Bewdley, Worcestershire

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…