Tag Archives: photography

The Gwelhellin Experience

trumpet sil 3Weeks ago I was contacted on my other blog by a singular human being by the name of Jonathan Xavier Coudrille. Coudrille introduced himself and sent me a photograph that I, with my fondness for eccentricity and facial hair, could not have resisted even if I was inclined to try.

Coudrille saw in my blog a chance to promote the work of his band Gwelhellin, and after some chat, he invited me to a lunchtime gig they were playing at Amelie’s in Porthleven, and despite the fact that I have no particular attachment to jazz, rampaging stallions could not have kept me away from a place where bonkers moustaches would mingle with hats and cups of tea practically on my own doorstep.

Did I live to regret my hasty decision? I did not. And nor did my family who I forcefully dragged along with me. Gwelhellin are a revelation. They describe themselves as ‘an eight piece trio’, partly for the sake of absurdity, but partly also because between them they play at least eight instruments during a three hour set, and they do so with heart bursting aplomb. NOW I understand what jazz is all about. Clearly it’s not a genre designed to be listened to on the radio – it’s all about being there. Dangerous (“yes, that’s why they hide me at the back”) Dave, the gentlest drummer you could ever imagine, held everything together unassumingly in the background; Tony Apple, an accomplished jazz musician (even I could tell that) was doing that gently weeping guitar thing that excellent musicians can do, and when he wasn’t beaming all over his magnificent beard, was resurrecting Louis Armstrong right there on Porthleven harbour with his emotion seizing vocals. And the star of the show, of course, was Coudrille himself who is one of those human beings you only get one of. Ever. “He won Melody Maker International Soloist of the Year, once you know”, whispered Dave like a proud father. “And he lived with Cossacks for years – that’s where he learned to play the balalaika.” And play it he does – wondrously. He energised the whole place with the force of his personality and the speed of his blue-fingernails on the strings of the balalaika, banjo and his beautiful guitar. AND he wears Russian boots and changes his accents and hats at intervals throughout the set, AND he plays the trumpet with one of those muffling things on the end, AND he sings Cossack songs in Russian, AND he tells genuinely amusing anecdotes, AND he sang me a romantic song like an olden days troubadour (I am far too British to know how to deal with that of course, and my son found it too much to handle, but it was great fun).  Not bad for someone 23 years older than me – I have to have a bit of a lie-down after a particularly strenuous conversation. Not only that, Coudrille is an extraordinary Surrealist painter, too (it’s obvious there’s no God, because if there was he’d have shared the talents out a bit more evenly).

So, I can’t recommend seeing Gwelhellin enough. Frankly, it should be made compulsory for the sake of the nation.

Conjugal Footwear

I had the very good fortune to attend a wedding this weekend. It was my favourite kind of wedding – the kind where it’s palpably evident that the bride and groom are best friends and spend more time than is decent having a damn good laugh together. My marrying friends demonstrated this happy kind of love amply when they only just controlled their giggles at the word “sustain” in the vows. “It’s a funny word,” said the English-teacher bride later, “it makes you think of cows being milked.”

They spent part of the evening before their big day making giant dinosaur Top Trump cards for the wedding tables and they had a cake made of cheese with Lego people and knitted mice on. It was that kind of wedding. Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brachiosaurus all made an appearance, but there was no sign whatsoever of Bridezilla.

Usually, of course, I love a wedding not only for the reminder of the bond humans can share, but also for the photo opportunities. This time I spectacularly failed in the human-snapping department for some reason, but consoled myself instead with accosting people for photographs of their feet. You get excellent shoes at weddings, and through feet I met some very pleasing people indeed. I recommend this method if you ever find it difficult to mingle at parties – all you need is a pocket-sized point and shoot and you need never feel socially awkward again.

Learning to listen

miner and moustacheI haven’t been writing lately. I’ve been reading the Internet too much again and I’m not sure why, but for the last few months my brain has not been processing the data I’ve been inputting effectively enough to produce any writeable trains of thought. I think I may be suffering from Toffler’s ‘infoxication’, or information overload. Someone may need to invent a new idiom to cover this state of affairs because I bet I’m not the only one experiencing it. How about: Too many opinions spoil your convictions…?

Ok, that’s embarrassingly lame, but it’s a start.

Anyway, while I have been unable to settle on any firm opinion about anything, and have also been wondering what the hell I want to do with my last 30 odd years on the planet, I have been working relentlessly on my other blog. This blog involves me walking around Cornwall with a camera permanently glued to my hand and a notebook and pen in my back pocket, accosting innocent passers-by and forcing them to talk to me.  As I’ve relaxed into the process of approaching a stranger, explaining what I’m doing and then asking their permission to photograph them, I have become more and more addicted to the whole thing. Only a few people say no, and these people usually have a very good reason to want to remain private, although the occasional older Cornish person still has a fear of the Internet based on not quite understanding how it works. One man today explained carefully to his wife, that if he had his photo on the blog, it would be seen by millions of people all over the world. If only that were so.

A serious and elegant lady I met in Falmouth this week

But what is so compelling about the whole thing is learning firsthand how almost everyone has something interesting to say if I can relax them enough to talk to me, and how moving even the most seemingly ordinary lives actually are. Although I tend to approach people who stand out to me in some way, often those who are more discreet in their appearance are just as interesting as the more noticeable ones, and on more than one occasion they have been much more interesting. I have always been someone who has faith in people, but doing this project confirms every single day that human beings are fascinating, funny and innovative. I met a man who is building a replica in his garden of one of the first planes to ever fly successfully, a homeless man who writes jokes on William Hill betting slips and keeps them in his rucksack, a woman whose husband accidentally asphyxiated himself on the back of a door and a man whose job it was to clean up drowned animals from Cornwall’s beaches. To name a few.

The home-made Penny Whistle of a busker in Penzance
The home-made Penny Whistle of a busker in Penzance

But I realised today that although I have been listening to the stories people have been telling me, I maybe haven’t been really listening. I mean listening in the sense of actually drawing things from these stories that could teach me, or remind me of, things of importance. I’m not the sort of person to start getting all I-Ching or anything, but it struck me today that I could draw things from what people are telling me. Last night, for example, I couldn’t sleep until very late because my brain was exploding with thoughts about what I want to do with my life. I have some business ideas that seem very difficult and out of reach, and I haven’t really focused my brain on making them into something real. So I (like everyone else probably) am feeling trapped and frustrated creatively which is making me lethargic. I woke this morning, tired and confused and went out to do some food shopping for the family. As usual, I had my blogging kit with me and ended up talking to two people. The first was a lady who told me about how her grandmother brought up four children all on her own while running her own small business and ended up owning three houses through sheer determination and hard work. The second was a man who talked about the ways he had come to terms with life in a Czech prison.

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Now, if I WAS a New Age type or spiritual person, I could start thinking some sort of higher power is trying to tell me to get off my arse and grab life by its testicles. Or at least its handlebars. I’m not one of those, though – but what I do think is that if we listen – really listen – to things people are saying to us, our brains can focus in on bits and pieces that we need to hear.

So I’m off out tomorrow with my camera and notebook. I wonder what the people of Cornwall have to teach me next.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

Retired Cornish Miner
In Cornwall, this is an iconic image which never fails to move me. Unfortunately I don’t know who took it, but I found it on http://mysaffronbun.com/2011/11/17/a-bleak-day-at-south-crofty/

I suppose it’s grimly appropriate that, in the week of Margaret Thatcher’s death, I have been out photographing evidence of the decline of tin mining in Cornwall. But if I’m honest, I have no idea whether or not Thatcher had anything to do with the post-industrial landscape of my native county. I should really ask my dad, a former mining engineer, about it all before I go around having opinions on things I know nothing about. So, I’ll refrain from comment, apart from to observe that this area in which I live was once one of the richest places in the land due to the tin that shot through its substratum. You can see for yourself how it has changed in the following images; from thriving industry to dereliction to heritage theme park.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense & A Predictable Metaphor.

A butterfly emerging from a chrysalis is an embarrassingly obvious metaphor for a human undergoing a transition phase into a new future.

I am a human undergoing a transition phase into a new future.

In a visual sense, I’m transforming from a beautiful butterfly slowly into a wrinkled old maggot/caterpillar thing. But that’s only a surface change. In another sense, I’m metamorphosing from a maggot-brained child-human into the magnificent, mature, awesome-brained old person I’m working on.

I like to think so, anyway. It compensates for the maggoty appearance.

Here are the photos. I took them in a butterfly house near Totnes after my lens stopped steaming up.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Resolved

This week’s photo challenge is another difficult one… I haven’t consciously made any new year’s resolutions because I don’t need any more excuses to feel like someone who never finishes what she starts. Not excuses – reasons. The reason I feel like someone who never finishes what she starts is because I frequently don’t finish what I start.

I could resolve to lose this extra stone, to stop procrastinating, to do some exercise, to start my business, to hoover more often, to give lollipops to passing children, to buy something from local businesses each week (although I don’t know what I’d buy from Barbs lil *shop* which only sells the following items):

barbBut none of those resolutions move me enough to actually try to keep them, so there was no obvious answer to what I could post for the ‘Resolved’ challenge. That is, until we found some lovely drifted bricks on Porthluney beach today (I’m not lying – the beach is effectively called Porth Loony). Driftbricks. I’m not sure how they got there… I wonder if someone’s whole house floated out to sea in the recent floods.

The bits of old building were so appealing that I collected them into a pile and spouse (who always fancied a job working for Lego) built a small village. Here it is:

Walking back to the car afterwards, we noticed that there were other little piles of rocks dotted around the beach; clearly we weren’t the only ones moved to try to create something in the rain.  “Humans” spouse said, “can’t stop building things.” That’s a splendid thing about humans, I thought. And then I realised I have made a sort of resolution for this year; I’ve just done it semi-unconsciously. I’ve changed my job to one that should enable me to be more creative in my work, but also should free me up to be more creative in everyday life.

So my resolution is MAKE MORE STUFF. And this little New Year Driftvillage is a representation of that.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Delicate

Not being a very delicate-minded person myself, I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do this challenge. Then I found myself at Heartlands half way through a dog walk and encountered a group of delighted children being sprayed with foam from a fake-snow machine. I liked this little girl in particular with her delicate hand investigating the snow. I have no idea why I failed to focus the damn pictures properly. I think it might be my middle aged eyes.

Two days later, again on a dog walk, I was with spouse in Tehidy Woods admiring the glorious trees and sundry other winter delights:

We sat under a tree for a while so brown spaniel could dig a massive trench, and were joined by a little round robin who spent 20 minutes strolling around us eating worms from our hands. There’s a Cornish superstition, apparently, that a friendly robin is a visit from a dead loved one, but none of my dead relatives as far as I know were so keen on eating worms. Anyway, here is the robin with his delicate wings and tiny cute robiny feet.

Thank you, panic attack.

My panic attack was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

Humans have this capacity to carry on in horrible situations for unlimited quantities of time unless something forces them to stop. I was unhappy in my job, I was working 70 hours a week, I was exhausted, I was disillusioned and seriously questioning whether the things I was killing myself to do were of any use to anyone.

This would have continued indefinitely if my body hadn’t said enough is enough. My breathing went wrong, I was sent to hospital, I was told that this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the physical damage long-term stress and overwork can do, that I needed a long rest and that I probably need to change my life in some way.

My first month off sick was spent sleeping, crying and raging about the fact that I’d spent nearly 15 years working to get out of the travelling scene and into the ‘real’ world and overcoming all sorts of mental barriers to become the professional teacher that I am now; only to find out that I am too much of a wimp to cope with the demands of the job. I had so much to offer but the education machine had smushed me into a little weeping pulp.

In my second month off sick, in between the crying and sleeping, the world-outside-work began to edge its way back in to my life. It was a complete revelation. I found I could properly listen when spouse spoke for the first time in years – there was real space in my head for his problems and concerns. I was able to cook him meals occasionally because I was no longer home much later than him in the evenings. I could watch films with son 2 because I wasn’t marking or lesson planning. I could see my parents because I didn’t have to spend all Sunday working. I could go out in the evenings. I began to paint and draw again for the first time in years. I was home when the shops were open so I could buy a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. I could stay up late editing my photographs. I could read whole books which were not work related. I had time to write, and this blog took off. I started to make things again. If someone dropped in unexpectedly for a visit I no longer panicked. I could spend a whole afternoon drinking tea and chatting without that low-level depressing knowledge that I’d now have to stay up extra late to catch up on the work I should have been doing. And most of all, I had time to think about what I want from life. And to realise that living like I had been was no way to live.

A friend of mine once explained how it was she had remained in a horrifically abusive relationship with a mentally ill man for so long before escaping. What sticks in my mind is how she had started seeing the world from the point of view of her abuser. She had begun to share his delusions and feel the same paranoia as he did, losing confidence in her own opinions, and constantly doubting her own judgement. She ended up believing the same things he did, and sharing his warped value system, while at the same time knowing it was all insane. This, I realised, is how I had been working in education (minus the cruelty). The more the management earnestly promoted new impossible and/or contradictory and/or alien ways of doing things, the more I found myself in a state of rampant cognitive dissonance – questioning the system, my own responses to the system and wondering if it was me or it that was insane. I was trying very hard to make it work because I thought I loved it, but in the end I realised it didn’t love me, and it took a hospital visit to make me realise it was over.

In this third month of my being-off-sick I’ve started recovering. I feel as though the clockwork of my brain has been oiled and rewound. I am inspired again. All the clutter and worry of A Level teaching has finally cleared out and space has been made for new ideas. I have a new job for January thanks to a human/fairy godmother (much less money and security, but real purpose again and opportunities for creativity) and I have two new ideas for exciting things to do with my life on top of that.

One of my ideas involves this:
garden square And another idea involves these:

Just looking at these images and thinking about what they represent fills me with the kind of inspiration and gut wrenching happiness I haven’t felt in a very long time. So thank you panic attack. Thank you very, very much for awakening my brain.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

This challenge has taught me a surprise thing about myself: I take a lot of photos of feet.

I discovered this when I went in search of some Autumnal photos from a walk some weeks ago and found a set of images of my bewellingtoned feet on a flooded path. Then I remembered I’d also taken some of my pudgy hobbit feet in some pound shop flip flops on another walk earlier in the year. When I went searching the folders for them I kept stumbling on various other feet and realised that feet are very good at expressing the changes of seasons. Bingo.