Different Perspectives

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Morecambe Bay, with lots of horseshoe vetch rather imperfectly captured in the foreground.

When I was at secondary school, in my mid-teens, I spent my lunchtimes playing cards, or football; listening to, or later, a sixth-form privilege, playing records in the music club, which is the only time I remember ever being in the school’s one and only lecture theatre; bunking off into town to borrow books or records from the library, or occasionally buying records; even more infrequently going to the pub with friends for a sneaky beer (way under-age and in uniform, how times have changed); but sometimes, quite frequently to be honest, I would slope off to the school’s library for a quiet half-hour. I’ve always been a bookworm. Back then, I liked to read New Scientist each week, and sometimes leaf through the English edition of Pravda, because it tickled me that the school bought it, and then I had an assortment of favourite books, which I would revisit. There was a dictionary of quotations of which I was very fond; I also remember reading about Russell’s paradox and the paradoxes of Zeno, which could have been in a maths text, but I suspect I more likely discovered them in an encyclopaedia; and there was a coffee-table style book of the photographs of Ansel Adams.

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Burnet Rose.

All of which is my long-winded way of introducing the f/64 group and their dedication to pin-sharp photographs, with a huge depth of field, achieved using a very small aperture.

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I’m going to guess that these are pollen beetles of some description, the smaller ones anyway.

I was already a photographer, of sorts, by then. My Grandad gave me an old Agfa camera of his own which he’d replaced. It was 35mm, not SLR, but it was necessary, for each photo, to set the aperture and exposure, for which purpose he also gave me a clunky light-meter which was almost as big as the camera. I don’t think I took any very startling photos, limited as I was by the cost of processing the films, but it did give me a great grounding in the mechanics of operating a camera.

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Bloody crane’s-bill, I think.

When I finally did get an SLR camera, thanks to my parents largesse, it incorporated a light meter and was semi-automatic. And since the switch over to digital cameras, the couple that I’ve owned seem to have become increasingly autonomous and do everything but choose the subject which is to be photographed, and that’s surely only a matter of time.

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Bell heather, I think.

I do switch off the full automatic mode when I’m using the telephoto for nature shots of small or distant things.

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Wood ant. Small, but not all that small compared to other British ant species.

And I’ve recently remembered that the camera has a ‘landscape’ setting and started using that again, but I need to remind myself how that’s set up. The camera generally defaults to f2.8 because the wide aperture lets plenty of light in which means the huge zoom works better than on many equivalent cameras, but that also decreases the depth of field, which is not ideal for landscape pictures

I’ve also remembered that what captivated me in Ansel Adams black and white photographs, all those  years ago, was the sharp detail in the foreground, the distant mountains and even in the clouds. I’ve been trying to remember to include some foreground in the pictures, maybe by kneeling or lying down or by finding something striking to frame in the foreground.

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This picture, for example, of Grange and Hampsfell, could really do with a bit more interest in the foreground. To be fair, the reason I took it was to show the channel, which was no longer right under the cliffs and which seems to be connected to the River Kent, which is how the OS map shows it.

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These two, with a bit thrift for colour, are what I was thinking of, although how successful they are I’m not sure.

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It kept me entertained, thinking about it, anyway.

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Oystercatchers.

The f/64 photographers were based in California and had all of the advantages that offers in terms of scenery and particularly in terms of light. Even in the good spell of weather we’ve had, you can’t always guarantee decent light in the North-Wet of England.

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The pictures, long-suffering readers will almost certainly recognise, were taken on a walk around the coast to Arnside, which was followed with a return over the Knott, creature of habit that I am.

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New Barns and Arnside Knott.

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Close to Arnside, where there’s a small public garden abutting the estuary, there was a real hullabaloo in the tall pines growing in the garden. The noise was emanating from a conspiracy of ravens, some of which were in the trees and some of which were circling above, clearly agitated. This single individual was holding itself aloof from the fuss, coolly going about its business.

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It eventually flew up on to the wall and then proceeded to hop and prance about there, looking, I thought, very pleased with itself, like a mischievous and slightly disreputable uncle enjoying a fag outside, whilst the family party audibly descends into a squabble within.

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Train crossing the Kent viaduct.

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Arnside.

From the end of the promenade, I climbed up through the old Ashmeadow estate where there a small area of allotments. There something very comforting about a well tended allotment, I always think, not that I’d ever have the patience to keep one neat and tidy myself.

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From there I was up onto Redhill Pasture, where, any day now, I should be able to assist with the wildflower monitoring project again; we’ve just had the go ahead from our local National Trust officer.

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Redhill Pasture.

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Lakeland Fells from Redhill Pasture.

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Kent Estuary from Redhill Pasture.

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Kent Estuary from Redhill Pasture, again.

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Forest of Bowland and Arnside Tower from the south side of the top.

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Morecambe Bay from the south side of the top.

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Goldfinch – there were several together on this telephone line.

Through a bit of sleight of hand, I can finish with a sunset, although, in truth, these photographs are from the evening before the rest of the photos. I had a late walk on the sands and then found a sneaky way up on to Know Hill.

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It wasn’t a great sunset, but I like the different perspective the slight gain of height gives and the view of the Coniston Fells beyond the Bay.

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I shall have to try this again sometime.

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Today’s tunes all can only really be things I can remember playing when it was my turn on the decks during the rather subdued disco with nowhere to dance, in the lecture theatre, which I think was a weekly affair. To set the scene, most of my contemporaries would play tunes from Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ album with an admixture of The Thompson Twins and, bizarrely, Thomas Dolby. As we progressed through the sixth-form I guess you could add The Smiths and U2 to that list.

There was a very vocal and fairly large minority of headbangers, or grebs, as we called them, who felt that music began and ended with Status Quo, Iron Maiden, Whitesnake and the like.

And then there was me and my mate A.S. It’s not that I didn’t like what my other friends played; mostly I did, but they all played the same things. The sixth-form committee had a pretty vast and reasonably varied collection of 45s, why not dip into it?

‘Babylon’s Burning’ The Ruts

‘Echo Beach’ Martha and the Muffins

‘Nut Rock’ Bumble Bee and the Stingers

‘Saturday Night at the Movies’ The Drifters

Also, always the Tommy Opposite, I knew full well that some of my choices really got up peoples noses. We did sixth-form parties too, and rented ourselves out, mostly for eighteenth birthday parties. We were very cheap, but you might find as many as 10 thirsty DJs arriving with the PA and the lights. Happy times.

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Different Perspectives

Liverpool: More Homework

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The king to all who wish to have burgages in the town of Liverpool, greeting. Know that we have granted to all who take up burgages at Liverpool that they shall have all the liberties and free customs in the town of Liverpool as enjoyed by any other free borough on the seacoast in our land. And so we command that you may travel there safely and in our peace in order to receive your burgages and to live there. In testimony of this we send you our letters patent. Witness Simon de Pateshull, at Winchester, 27 August in the 9th year of our reign.

With these few words, in a document known as a letter patent drawn up in 1207, King John announced the foundation of Liverpool, a newly planned town alongside a tidal creek known as ‘le pool’ in the Mersey estuary.

from 1215 The Year Of Magna Carter by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham

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In one of those happy coincidences which seem surprisingly, but which, in the normal course of things are probably almost bound to happen now and again, I was reading 1215 when we went to Liverpool, without having realised in advance that I would learn something about the town’s foundation in doing so.

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I previously read The Year 1000 by the same authors, and like that book, found 1215 really fascinating reading.

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A had art homework set over the Easter break: take photos of four interesting buildings.

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She enlisted my help and I can honestly say that this was the most enjoyable homework I’ve never been set (if you see what I mean). The pair of us felt free to wander around the town unselfconsciously snapping away.

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A’s favourite TV programme is ‘Grand Designs’ and at one point it was her ambition to be an architect, so this homework was right up her street.

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A was impressed with the city centre’s wealth of Victorian splendour and opined that Lancaster had nothing to compare. Well, Lancaster is a lot smaller than Liverpool, and its buildings are generally smaller too, but I told her that she was being unfair and that she and I should have a wander around Lancaster with a similar brief to see whether we can see it from a visitor’s perspective, through new eyes.

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It wasn’t just the older buildings we admired, however; A was really impressed with the ramps on this multi-storey car-park, in fact, I think it made her final four.

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Whilst I liked this entrance to the Odeon Cinema…

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She didn’t know it when she took the photos, but A now has to use one of her pictures as the inspiration for artwork in the style of the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

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It seems that Hundertwasser was himself an architect, although we didn’t come across any buildings in Liverpool even remotely in the style of the fantastical structures he designed (scroll down to the bottom of the page in the link above if you’re intrigued – they are definitely worth a look).

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We finished our short trip with one last wander down to the river and along past the docks.

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When we asked, before the holidays, where the kids wanted to go for a late-booked escape, S suggested Greece (because it’s the original home of the pizza he tells me) A wanted to go to ‘where goat’s cheese is made’, and B said (as he usually does) ‘Stay at home’. TBH would have preferred Amsterdam, but chose Liverpool in the face of the rest of the family’s indifference to that idea.

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I think that Liverpool surprised us all to some extent.

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And we didn’t get to either of the Cathedrals, to the Walker Art Gallery, to Speke Hall or Knowsley Safari Park, Formby beach or Rufford Old Hall.

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It’s conceivable that I might even be persuaded to go back.

Liverpool: More Homework

What Camera?

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Early December – I’m still more than a month behind!

For quite some time now, well over a year I reckon, I’ve been debating about buying a new camera. Much as I’ve enjoyed the Olympus, it has been physically deteriorating for a while now. And I’ve had a feeling that it’s performance has begun to slide somewhat too.

But what to buy? I haven’t even been able to decide what kind of camera to buy, let alone what model. The convenience and relatively low cost of another bridge camera was tempting – after all, I have liked the Olympus. But the pocketability of a compact also had some attractions. Then again, for many years I used an SLR and I seriously considered upgrading to a DSLR. Then there’s the mirror-less cameras to consider, and consider them I did. At great length. I drove myself, and perhaps several other people, mad going over it again and again, reading reviews, shopping around. Several times I was convinced I had finally made a decision, but could never quite bring myself to make a commitment, put my hand in my pocket, sign on the dotted line etc etc.

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Then, over the Black Friday weekend, my friend and colleague The Proper Birder emailed me to say that she intended to replace her own camera – with a direct replacement, exactly the same model she already owned, because she likes it so much. She was getting a good deal, did I want to order one, because she was going to the shop and could pick it up for me? I’d seen her photographs of exotic birds taken in the Caribbean, which were pretty stunning, and I’d also read several reviews of the camera and thought it might be the one for me. So I finally took the plunge and bought myself an early Christmas present.

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These photos are the fruits of my first trip out with that camera, a brief, early expedition to watch the sun rise from Castlebarrow, above the village. 

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What did I choose? A Panasonic Lumix FZ200 – another bridge camera. In the end I decided that having a huge zoom and a macro facility all without needing multiple lenses was perfect for me.

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The unique (as far as I know) selling point of the FZ200 is that, although its zoom is relatively modest by current standards (x24 where x50 is not unusual now) it allows a wide f2.4 aperture throughout the range of the zoom, letting more light in to the camera and therefore giving a better chance of getting good shots with the zoom in low light. Trying to take photos of squirrels running around in the trees on a gloomy morning with the Olympus for example would have been a complete waste of time.

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What Camera?

Further Tales of Incompetence and Evening Hills

Pines of Cragmire Plantation

I seem to have let things slide a bit around here once again. I’ve left several hilltop sunset moments unrecounted, for a variety of reasons, mostly related to camera muppetry.

I have no photos to offer of the first of these evenings, not because I didn’t take any, but because the light was so low it wasn’t really worth taking any, and the end results weren’t very satisfactory. Around a month ago now, when the days were as long as they come, I’d planned a late visit to Brunt Knott which sits above Staveley on the east side of the Kentmere valley. Things, however, don’t always go as planned and I had begun my walk very late, even for a long June evening. What’s more, a rather splendid day had clouded over and so, somewhere above Potter Tarn, I decided that the light was insufficient to get me to the top and back and turned tail. So – a bit of a flop in some ways, but a very pleasant walk none the less, most memorable for the very strident oystercatcher by Potter Tarn which must have had a nest nearby, judging by the belligerent attention it paid to me.

Cragmire plantation and the Howgills 

I also have no photos of the second walk, which happened a few days later. Once again my plans didn’t run smoothly. This time I’d arranged to meet my friend T again, who had accompanied me on Ingleborough not so long back. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten about a late meeting at work and left him sitting in a lay-by wondering what had happened to me. Luckily, T’s a very forgiving chap and eventually we were parked on the Littledale Road on the North –Western edge of the Forest of Bowland. It was a cracking evening and we had a fine and sunny walk – sandwiches and a cuppa on Clougha Pike then over Grit Fell to Ward’s Stone. It was a little hazy and there was a covering of cloud to the north and west. For that reason, we didn’t really see a sunset as such, but when the sun was low it was reflected, a deep red, in the waters of Morecambe Bay. Beyond the Bay, Black Combe glowed pink, presumably catching that reflected light, since we were seeing it’s eastern flank. It was a really odd phenomenon, and it would have been good to see whether a photo could do it justice. What’s more I had a new camera to try out: my Dad has down-sized to an upmarket compact and has donated his old DSLR to me. He gave me two camera bags too. And he was very specific about which one actually had the camera in it. Only an idiot would take the other bag and leave the camera behind.

I’ll let you connect the dots.

Hazy view of the Lakeland Fells 

We had a proper bona fide sunset, a real beauty, looking across the bay from the top of the hill behind Lancaster in Williamson Park. We were there for the Play in the Park, an annual promenade performance, this year an unusual retelling of the Robin Hood story, set in a dystopian future (thoroughly recommended – the play that is, not the dystopian future). Because we were there for the play….I hadn’t thought to take a camera.

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The photos here were all taken on an evening ascent of Scout Hill. Unless you live locally or collect HuMPs or trig pillars you probably don’t know it. It’s a modest hill, 285m, and there is no access to the top. But we can see it from our bedroom window and I’ve long wanted to investigate. As a self-confessed wuss, I’ve been deterred by the need to trespass, but after reading about Mike Knipe’s visit earlier this year, in which any mention of shotgun-toting “get-orf my land” types was notable by its absence, I decided to give it a go.

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And I didn’t regret it. It has tremendous all  round views.

If you can ignore the masts on the top that is.

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There was a huge bull in the field which has a footpath through it, but I gave him a wide-berth and he didn’t seem too interested in me. (The one I’d encountered in the fields near Side House on Potter Fell had been, to my mind, all too interested in me and I’d resorted to trespass then too, in order to avoid him.)

Trig 

The lanes around Scout Hill are decidedly minor – single track with long grass growing down the middle, but it’s possible to pull off the one on the north side directly opposite the bridleway. A well made track heads through the gate from the road there, but the right-of-way follows the wall. The flowers on display – lousewort, bog asphodel, ragged robin – all love wet ground and I imagine that during a wetter spell of weather you might want something more robust than the sandals I was walking in.

Ragged robin 

It was a beautiful evening and I was snapping away with gay abandon – the only draw-back being the hordes of clegs in attendance, seemingly waiting whilst I was distracted by my camera before they took lumps out of me.

Setting sun I 

Sadly, I’d also temporarily forgotten the very careful instructions my Dad had given me about the camera’s autofocus. So I have a lot of blurred photos.

Setting sun III 

These are the best of a very poor lot. Better than no photos at all I suppose.

Low sun

Now, can a bear of very little brain adjust to a camera which needs to have a little think before you can take a photo? We shall see.

Whilst this sweltering weather continues, I think I shall be more inclined to go swimming than walking anyway. We all swam in the Kent again recently and the water was, if not actually warm, a good deal warmer than it was last year.

Further Tales of Incompetence and Evening Hills

The New Nature Writing

I’ve long been aware of Granta and have filed it mentally as A Good Thing without ever feeling the need to actually buy or read  a copy. But when I read a recommendation of Granta 102 ‘The New Nature Writing’ over on Walking and Writing I was intrigued. I managed to swap a copy through Readitswapit. I also discovered that Granta 90 ‘Country Life’ was on a similar theme and acquired a copy of that the same way.

I’ve now read almost all of both issues and can strongly recommend either to anyone interested in good writing about the outdoors. I’m not sure that the nature writing featured is entirely ‘new’, Jonathon Raban, Richard Mabey, Mark Cocker, Roger Deakin, Kathleen Jamie and Robert Macfarlane are all pretty well established writers. But that’s a quibble.

I enjoyed Mark Cocker’s description of the artist Kurt Jackson at work painting on the Cornish Coast. (Mordros is apparently the Cornish word for the sound of the sea.) You can read part of the article and see some paintings here.

I’ve pasted in this thumbnail of The squirrels watch me. Hollands Wood oak. February sunlight and rain in the hope that it will wet your appetite. You can see a larger version and many more paintings at Kurt Jackson’s own website. Well worth a look in my opinion.

I also enjoyed, in Granta 90, Blight – photographs by Robert Gumpert of fallen leaves. Could he be a fellow obsessive? Unlike my photos his are taken back in his studio with the leaf sandwiched between two plates of glass and backlit.

See more examples here.

I’m already a fan of Mabey, Deakin and Macfarlane (my latest Readitswapit acquisition is Mountains of the Mind). Jonathon Raban’s essay Second Nature and Barry Lopez on Salmon also stood out as highlights. Kathleen Jamie had essays in both editions and having read them I’m now even more determined to pick up a cheap copy of her book Findings. (It’s part of a very long wish list.)

The New Nature Writing