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Thursday, 28 March 2013

No more paper junk mail, please!

If anyone wants to:

Save money at Asda online, or in store, buy a luxury kitchen at affordable prices (endless possibilities at a Hammonds store near you), try a freshly flame grilled burger at Burger King, beat a VAT increase and own a brand new Yorkshire holiday home from £23,275, shop at the Co-Op (they have big deals for Easter and will cost you more than most other supermarkets), give to Water Aid, get MASSIVE, yes MASSIVE saving at Toys R Us (they won't be beaten on price) or pop down to Bradmore Garden Centre for Spring Savings then come round to my house. Please!!!!

I have more junk mail rubbish useful leaflets than anyone has the right to house in their home. One day I will have to leave the kitchen window slightly ajar so that when I get home I can clamber through and over the sink to the kitchen floor where I can drive my mini JCB and scoop up the mountain of junk mail to allow access to the front door. Then I will drive said mini JCB (no I don't have a licence but I do have a form offering me money off car insurance with Thora Hurd on the front - sorry that was for the Stena stair-lift)  along my path (see special offers on new Country Cottage styles from Creative Paths and Garden Accessories) to the recycling bin for paper waste.

After all this stress I will settle down and read a magazine, out of which will tumble more junk mail helpful leaflets. And relax - in a spa near you, ONLY £499 per night inc VAT and personalised soap.


Monday, 25 March 2013

Whatever happened to photo albums?

We never really had photograph albums in our family home as myself and my siblings grew up. Instead there would be a myriad of loose glossy and matte photographs of all shapes and sizes and conditions kept in a box brownie cardboard box in the cupboard alongside the Singer sewing machine and Val Doonigan, and my Dad's brass band records.

It wasn't that we didn't document the family and its new additions like the arrival of my younger brother and Mick the puppy dog being cute on the lawn, it's just that the documentation was of a more shifting, malleable nature than plastered down in an album, unable to breathe. The joy of looking through the family's history through photos was more a voyage of accidental discovery than turning the pages of time encapsulated in sheen of tracing paper or worse, the bubbled up, sticky down plastic sheets covering each page. I never did like those.

As a child I was given a box brownie by a reluctant cousin but don't recall using it to any degree. I just liked the shape and feel and the little round window to look through. Then I had a 110 format camera with square disposable flash cubes followed by a neck breaking, stupendously heavy Russian made Zenith.

For a while in the 1970s I got excited by a compact Super 8 camera I had purchased and made some fun short and silent films on my holidays abroad. I showed the resulting edited films to my family on a screen in the front room and narrated them as I went along. “Here's me at the Acropolis in Athens – with my worry beads and pistachio nuts.” Another way of sharing imagery I guess. I used to enjoy the editing process and recall a snipping device, a little editing screen and the smell of film glue. Plus the return of my cine films from Kodak in bright yellow packages. The excitement of creating my own moving images.

From here I went mad for still photography shooting all around me with a Canon film camera. Much lighter than the shoulder crippling Zenith. I was never overly interested in the technical side of things but learnt enough through books to be able to take my images out of the mundane into something attractive, creative and interesting. In all my time as an amateur photographer I never once chopped anyone's head off! Feet maybe, but never the head.
                                                        A photo of my father as a child

So where did I put these personal memories on film? Not in a shoe box or old camera box, but in actual traditional albums. German made albums that were, in fact, cheaper than British made ones and much better quality and purchased from Jessops. Each stiff white paper page was separated by a sheet of tracing paper and the images were originally stuck in with photo corners but eventually got replaced by sticky corners on the underside of the photo. This meant that the photo didn't fall out of the album as time and constant wear and tear loosened the grip of the corners and the precious memories didn't go astray or get damaged. I remember taking one or two of the albums into the butchers' shop where I worked to show my co-workers and always got very agitated if they didn't handle them with the care I bestowed upon them.

In my passion for photography I built up many an album over the years, all documenting my growing up, family events, holidays abroad, new experiences and my new hobby of being involved in the world of amateur theatre. Also, over time and through leaving home and subsequent house moves the albums started to require too much shelf space and some got dwindled down into smaller affairs and even thrown away. Ah hindsight. If only I'd known how precious some of those pictures might be today. I don't mean money precious but memory precious and probably very useful in providing visual clues and nostalgic inspiration for my writing these days. I can almost see some of the images I took in my head today, almost. I'd also started to take photos for other people like the local amateur light opera group and sold them some copies.
My sisters playing Monopoly has to be one of my favourite photos because of the expressions on each face.

Interestingly, on my original travels in Germany in the 1980s I learnt that the German language says that they 'make' a photograph not 'take' as we say. I can understand how 'make' (machen) makes sense but to 'take' doesn't really make literal sense. In 'take' you imagine something being removed, not created.

So, you may be wondering, where did all this come from? It came from going, accidentally, to an exhibition at The Quad in Derby a few weeks ago as part of Format 13 – a celebration of photography and photographic collections. I really liked the albums part of the exhibition and was inspired to take some photos myself of the exhibits and installation. Check out their website and be inspired yourself: and if you fancy finding out more about the Eric Kessel's Album Beauty exposition click here


Images above are from the Eric Kessel Album Beauty exhibition at The Quad, Derby.
The most familiar documentation tool to most folk would have been the family album, now mostly displaced by online methods of sharing such as the photo sharing site, I have met some good friends through sharing online photography and have been able to be inspired through complete strangers worldwide and their take on capturing a still image. Similarly I think there is something to be said about the archiving and sharing of a paper version of photographs.

I still have photographs on photographic paper and have created specific albums to house them in large format (A3) art books. I use these because I like the strength of them and the ability to put quite a few photos over two spread pages. Because I love my trips to France so much I created three albums to house all these precious memories and browsing through these almost makes me feel like I am on holiday.
The image above of an enlarged picture of a French lady's album intrigued me because of the poodle and the accompanying writing expressing her love for the dog.
I liked this image because, although very damaged the damage itself has dramatic feeling to it and made me wonder what had happened to the young bride and her history.

Also, one can be inspired by found photographic objects such as a strangers photo album discovered in a car boot sale or charity shop. Generations of unknown people with unknown lives staring back from the pages with sepia stares and smiles. A chance to imagine lives unknown or unconnected – or are they?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Coffee for Phil? People watching at Starbucks.

Some days can be one of those days that come upon one when one feels the need to people watch. This day was one of those for oneself. One had fun.

I chose to go to the new Starbucks opposite the railway station in Nottingham for my people watching pleasure and a coffee. This was about 9am this morning. The refurbished building is the former home to the Bentinck Hotel and public house and was smaller inside than I ever imagined it to be. The friendly Starbucks assistant took my order and my name. The cappuccino was presented to me as “Coffee for Phil?” Now that's personalisation for you. I have been officially branded as a Starbucks' customer to be greeted by name next time and politely asked, “Your usual Phil? Cappuccino, medium?”

The coffee, almond croissant and I sat in the window and watched the world and its mobile phone go past.

There were a fair few- dodgy weasel - like characters sloping off toward the Job Centre or maybe to catch a tram. Who knows the course of destiny in this life? These weasels are easily identified with their pointed faces, jagged yellow teeth, flickering dark eyes, nervous of being spotted in the daylight and sporting pale blue and white nylon track suit ensembles last seen on documentaries about 1970s Eastern Bloc athletes. In the animal kingdom a male weasel is known as a dog, a buck, a Jack, or a hob while females are known as a Jane, a doe, or a bitch. From what I saw out in the rough and tumble of Station Street, there may have been a few Troy, Tyler and Chantelles among them as well. And a few dogs. I'm resisting further comment.

In England, groups of weasels can be seen moving around together in early summer. These are usually a mother and her young, out on a hunting expedition which can be quite large due to a good breeding year. Many of my passers-by may well have savagely hunted down a lucrative Giro and its distant cousins.

I also saw a few confused looking individuals with travel bags standing underneath the huge sign that points to the temporary ticket office and train station entrance. They seemed oblivious of its presence. In the world of pantomime someone would have been compelled to shout out “It's BEHIND YOU!” Instead I drank my coffee and nibbled the almond croissant, knowingly.

As I wet my finger to pick up the sweet almondy crumbs of my almond croissant I witnessed the blur of an older man rapidly pushing a small child in a pushchair. The adult and child both had the exact same unhappy grimace on their faces and the man, with his thick, shoulder length, dirty blonde hair, could have been a world weary Brad Pitt twenty years from today playing the lead in the film 'The Baby Pusher.'

Someone is now behind me on his mobile phone talking the talk. I hear snippets of... 'function' ...'very exciting'...'what we might do is'... 'get Clive to sort it'... 'sorry I'm in Nottingham. Starbucks'... This was followed by some warm laughter from the man and I noticed he said the word 'does' like 'das'.

Then a rat scuttled past. Not of the type Rattus norvegicus but a truncated man, all long brown straggles of greasy matted hair and a filthy looking coat. Mr Ratty reminded me of a roughish, tricolour swathed, historical character living in revolutionary France whose destiny it was to scurry about, squeaking and shrieking, claiming liberal freedoms for all mankind and rodents too! The last I saw of rat man was his bruised and battered tricorn hat falling into the bloodied basket along with his severed head. The Starbucks coffee drinkers rose in blood thirsty unison and roared their barbarous approval and then returned quietly to their beverages. One man tried to sing the French national anthem but as nobody else knew the words, I stopped short at … Aux armes, citoyens! Pity really. I was getting quite roused.

Another passing fella's gargantuan stomach heralded his arrival five minutes before the rest of him came into sight. As he turned the corner two lanes of traffic had to slam on their brakes to let him by.

As if to illumine this parade of ne'er-do-wells a beam of godly light issued from the heavens and a smartly dressed black couple in grey Sunday best coats waltzed by in a triumph of beatific smiles. If only all the people with their headphones turned up to max and those hypnotised by the world of Nokia and Samsung had stopped to look and listen they would have heard the heavenly chorus sing a mighty “Hallelujah!” But alack and alas they did not and were not blesséd among the throng.

Now comes the half human storm that is the deep purple face of anger; a man bedevilled by devils (or too much crack cocaine and Dandelion and Burdock). This torment on legs had a twisted snarl on his face where, if a smile ever did there reside, it would call itself – embittered and be damned! His name was Gareth – meaning 'gentle one' in Welsh.

Gareth stood steaming in the middle of Station Street, oblivious to the honking of the city taxi hooters and Arabic curses and wrenched off his stripy blue and red bobble hat, shouting madly to the skies “What happened to my fucking drink Bentincks!!!”

You see that's what happens when you turn a man's drinking hole into a coffee shop.

“Another cappuccino please and make it frothy.”
“Straight away Phil. Medium isn't it?”

Monday, 18 March 2013

I was nearly run over by Gary Linaker and more besides.

The Sunday ended with Gary Linaker trying to run me over in his tractor but let's back track to the beginning of a working Sunday for me. Every Sunday I get the 8.09am number 10 bus from my village into the city and then, if I'm lucky, I jump on the 8.30am Indigo bus over to Beeston. Once in Beeston I usually have forty minutes to spare before I need to clock in and I spend that time over a leisurely coffee and almond croissant at Caffè Nero.

Yesterday I was on time, dressed and ready to nip out and catch my first bus. Then I felt I needed to go to the loo. This took a few minutes. Then I couldn't locate my key. The bus sailed majestically past my gate just as I reached for the latch. Bugger. There wouldn't be another bus for seventy minutes. I started to walk the four miles to work. I have walked part of the way before so I knew that it would take me approximately an hour to reach Wilford Road through a posh housing estate. That's a kind of half way mark to getting to Nottingham on foot.

En route, I cadged a lift from a man loading his car. He took me two hundred yards to the Wilford Industrial Estate where I used to work. I was aware of a short cut across the back of some houses and walked down into the industrial estate and to the back of the Serif Software unit. Alas, the short cut was no more and I discovered it to be all barred off with fences due to the tram works. Great! I turned back along the route I had come and further on up a hill towards the Apple Tree pub and through the housing estate. Via the duck pond and a dead duck (not the name of a pub but an actual dead duck in the kerbside) I trudged and finally arrived at a point of decision.

I was at a major intersection and I had the choice of going left or right. I was aware that going right towards Loughborough Road was actually further than one gives the journey credit for. Turning left towards Clifton and the A345 would bring me to a set of steps that would take me along a tow path alongside the motorway heading towards Dunkirk and the Queen’s Medical Centre. At that roundabout I could turn left towards Beeston along University Boulevard and Beeston High Street. The time was 8.53am. I turned left and decided to consider this morning's journey on foot as a good idea for a blog post. I had my camera with me and my dictaphone and made good use of both along the way. It was kind of fun contemplating the idea of a comic story from adverse conditions.

As I walked along the tow path to the purring and be-bumping sounds of the cars on the tarmac I shouted my notes into my dictaphone and photographed the rain swollen river Trent. At least it wasn't raining on this walk. Further along I could see the rooftops of Sat Bain's hidden restaurant and a lone brooding horse in a very wet looking field.

As I came down the slope in the direction of a big section of traffic islands, a scary looking overpass appeared to my right. It hung there with black pools of water on the waste land underneath. Was I now in some Stygian version of the Austrian Tyrol? Amongst the detritus that lived in the bare branch hedges and oily scrub-land was the shattered wheel trim from someone's Audi. To complete the beauty of the scene; a used condom lay limply on bunch of thistles with only a discarded beer can for company.

Foot weary I slogged past the old Central TV studios where I once worked as an extra in Crossroads. More vehicular purrs, first distant, then closer and louder, and less loud as each car passes. A runner with no hands jogs past me in orange. It's 9.19am as I am approaching the multiplex Showcase cinema, all squat and full of cinematic memories of films seen and sticky feet from the damp sugary carpets.

Looking down as I approach the area called Dunkirk I see two canal boats. One is called Ginny and the houses look like they were built sometime in the 1930s. There is an old painted sign above a house that still declares the premises as a NEWSAGENT. Then comes the train line and more litter in the trees and pathway. Bits of old wet newspaper, broken branches, cigarette ends, weather worn green wood fences, half a sad and retired umbrella dangling from a tree, an upside down Lucozade bottle similarly dangling in bare thorny branches.

I get the, “Someone in a tree!” lyrics 'ear worming' in my head from Sondheim's Pacific Overtures all the way to the University Boulevard.


I was there then.


I am here still.

It's the fragment, not the day.


It's the pebble, not the stream.


It's the ripple, not the sea.

Not the building but the beam,

Not the garden but the stone,

Not the treaty house,

Someone in a tree.'
I wait for a bus to take me the rest of the journey but there isn't one for fifteen minutes. I decide to carry on walking and cross the busy main road to the entrance of the Nottingham University. I photograph some colourful road works sign-age and check the skies for rain clouds. Fortunately, there are none.

In the university park and lake there are the antics of honking geese to enjoy hearing and seeing, and the splash down of ducks landing on the park lake like gentle Lufthansa jets caressing the runway at Munich Airport. (Another story) Half way round the lake an old gent and his son are trying out his remote control fishing boat on the lake and three jogging middle aged Asian ladies say a collective “ Good morning!” to me. I return their good nature.

The walk has now become a hike and the grounds of the university park become a series of steep steps through a pretty wooded area and open out into an expanse of manicured lawns and paths to the main the road. A shallow sheen of rain lays on the main road coming into Beeston. The cars hiss by like annoyed geese. My legs are starting to ache and my back is damp from sweating lightly in my jerkin and overcoat. I have been walking in my steel toe capped work boots for two hours. The High Street is busier than I ever see it on my normal Sunday morning.

The bee man statue is sporting a blue and white woollen hat. I am tempted to go into Caffè Nero for my usual breakfast but press on. I am nearly an hour late for work.

The Tesco store hasn't fallen down in my absence and my colleague Paul has taken the covers off the meat counter for me. I crack on and the day goes by very quickly as I flit from the meat counter to the fish counter to serve customers with sea bass. They are half price at the moment and I have become very adept at trimming the sharp fins off, de-scaling them, gutting and washing them and bagging them up. Occasionally we have to fillet the bleeders too. All for two quid a fish. My team leader Rebecca came in to help today so that helped enormously with the work load and we had a good laugh. I don't think she believed I had actually walked all the way from Ruddington to Beeston.

After my shift I was walking through the stores behind the counters and Gary Linaker tried to run me over with his tractor!


Well, actually I set this silly photo up. I had previously seen the cardboard tractor in the back and the image popped into my head so, being as creative daft as I am, I took my camera in to work and took the photo on a self timer for fun.

I got my usual two buses home. No way was I walking another four miles. I stopped for a beer on the way home and some Walkers crisps.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Lunch at Carluccios in Nottingham

Today I had the wonderful experience of being treated to lunch at Carluccios on Low Pavement in Nottingham, and the equally wonderful experience of meeting Jean a fellow blogger from 'A Very Grand Pressigny' for the very first time.

Carluccios in Nottingham

Meeting someone for the first time can potentially be an awkward experience but not with Jean. She turned out to be a lovely lady, amusing, interesting and great company and the three hours we spent together chatting and eating flew by. Outside the weather was blustery, chilly and snowy, inside all was conviviality and warmth.

The service at Carluccios was excellent and unobtrusive. Just the right amount of attention from the knowledgeable staff. We decided it wasn't a day to sit outside though.

We decided to forgo a starter and have a main and a pudding instead. Jean went  for the  tortelloni di cervo and I chose the linguine al frutti di mare and we shared some focaccia bread and a salad.

linguine al frutti di mare
During the meal we chatted about France, French culture, the Loire Valley and the magnificent thunderstorms there, lulu the poodle, the history of my life in theatre, Jean's friends who live next door to a vineyard, my experiences in France and the fun of meeting people from other cultures and sharing aspects of their lives.

I did my usual trick of taking photos of the menus and food as aide memoires and illustrations for this blog post and we both enjoyed a nice glass of wine each and our desserts of lemon tart (sweet pastry with a rich lemon filling) and tiramisu (Savoiardi biscuits soaked in strong espresso coffee and coffee liqueur, mascarpone and chocolate) chosen from the dolci, gelati e sorbetti menu.

The yummy desserts were followed by a coffee.


Thank you again, Jean for a super time and for treating me to lunch at this venue and I was most  touched by the unexpected gift of the French food and wine and the home-made goodies. Until next time. I will check out the blogs that you recommended. x

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Double Glazing with no hassle

My lovely landlady organised for all my windows in the house to be replaced with double glazed ones. As appears to be normal with double glazing the benefits will be less dust (I live next to a main road), less noise from the pubs (I live between two pubs), cheaper heating and nicer, cleaner looking windows.

So, this weekend I'd arranged some holiday time from work and on Friday I put a lot of my bits and pieces away to prevent them getting filthy from the inevitable dust and to prevent accidental breakages. On Saturday all the curtains came down and I covered what I could up with old sheets. I was going to clean the muddy paw prints from the front room windows caused by a playful cat called Loki and then I reasoned that it was pointless because the windows were about to be ripped out. Doubtless Loki will be back to put his mucky prints on the new windows.

The bedroom windows were the worst, Victorian sash windows like downstairs but the paint on the woodwork was all flaking off and the panes would run with condensation every time I had a bath, dried wet clothing in the house or if the outside temperature was colder than indoors with the heating on.

Here are a series of 'before' pictures to document the change.

peeling paint and exposed wood

the window lock in the bedroom

Bedroom window before

Here are the 'before' front room and kitchen images with everything cleared away to allow the double glazing guys a clutter free area to work in.


It took the two guys from 9.30am to 4.45pm to do all four windows. I wasn't able to have the blind back in the kitchen window (drat, no more coming downstairs naked then!) for practical reasons and there was a fair amount of filthy dust to hoover up and surfaces to wipe clean but otherwise the double glazers were very friendly and professional. I went into town and kept out their way while they were taking the old windows out.

Back of the house
Front of the house