Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Big birds

OK so on to the cafe we took my friend Martin and his wife Kate to last week.

This is a nice wee place, in the middle of Downhill Forest and well worth a visit if you are in the vicinity.  It does a lovely strawberry sponge cake.  Indeed it does.

But be warned, it has birds.  Big under-exposed ones.

Imagine you're sitting enjoying your Skinny Latte (or whatever), casually look up to catch the sun's warmth and see that thing eyeing up your Raspberry and White Chocolate Scone (or whatever)?

And then his mates come along, to see what gives?

Next thing they're coming for the scone...

But really, it is a nice place.  The birds are OK.  Honestly.

Monday, 30 May 2016


So a couple of weeks ago me old mate Martin and his lovely wife Kate came a-visiting.  I used to work with Martin at the University of Sussex, down there on the South Coast of England.  He's a good lad, is Martin and he likes his cameras, though mostly digital affairs.

As you can see, we all went to Portstewart, 'cos it's nice there.  There's Martin there, cradling his digital baby - rather on the large size it is, as you can see.  Note the sky - no clouds!  At first I thought that was the reason for throwing me off me exposure - as you can see I didn't let enough light fall onto the FP4+.  Actually, the truth is somewhat different.  I don't think it was the lack of clouds at all - I think I actually have FP4+ in the bulk loader and not, as I believed, HP5+.  Hence I've been under-exposing everything by close to 2 stops.  Eejit.

That was Martin outside a little cafe we went to (more of that another time, possibly tomorrow if you're lucky).  He must have stood there about 5 full minutes taking that shot.  Well, since there is a short feedback loop in these devices there was a lot of looking at the back of the camera.  And he had to change his camera's battery pack halfway through the shoot as well.  That's what happens with these sorts of cameras.

There he is explaining some button or other to Kate.  Very complicated, that camera.  Not just aperture, speed and shutter release, oh no.  Much more.

Friday, 27 May 2016

It's 1987 all over again

Q: Where was I 29 years ago?  A: I was in Somerset, or North Devon...somewhere down the West Country anyway.  This was from the time I lived in Taunton, teaching at the Richard Huish Sixth Form College - my first proper job.  The students were all so lovely to work with - they taught me a great deal.  A great wee town, Taunton - people were very friendly.  I remember thinking this would be the perfect place when I'm 50...slow, relaxed, lovely countryside.  Not much cop though when you are 20-something, hungry for a piece of the action and what have you.  Ah well - I can't say I would change many of the decisions I made over the past 29 years.  One or two for sure, but you wouldn't be doing it properly if you didn't make a few mistakes along the way, right?

There are some great places around the West Country - like Cheddar Gorge, for example.  Limestone cliffs, caves, stalagmites and stalactites and what have you.  If in doubt which is which, remember the old saying, 'Mites go up and Tights come down'.  I'll say no more...

All on good old Kodakchrome slide film, via the OM1.

I'm sure things have changed somewhat around Cheddar since 1987, but from a quick search they still have these rather strange structures below.  Hopefully they've had a lick or two of paint since then... 

If only we could wind the clock back.  For sure I'd take more photographs of people, places and situations.  You don't see the changes happening when you're in the moment, of course.  It's only when you look back you realise how much has actually changed.  Memo to self:  Get out more and take more snaps - it won't be like how it is now for ever, y'know!

Thursday, 26 May 2016

What's is all about then?

The North West 200, that is.  Well, it's all about motorbikes on a normal road circuit, which they close to normal traffic.  That's an important bit, since they are going at some crazy speeds.  I tried to take some snaps to show what they look like...

I think I captured them rather well, considering I was holding the ME Super still and trying to open the shutter as they whizzed past.  I think I was down around f/22, which meant 1/30s, but can't be sure - the bikes were slowing down from somewhere around 200mph before a 90 degree corner about 300m up the road to the right.  I'm surprised I got anything at all, to be honest, since I wasn't even looking through the viewfinder, but watching as they entered my field of vision from the left.   Recommended as a good way to waste some film, for sure.

It was a bad year at the races, with 2 major accidents.  The first guy, Ryan Farquhar, was very lucky to have had a medic attend to him at the roadside, which enabled him to survive long enough to get to hospital.  He's was discharged from hospital following surgery but was re-admitted only yesterday and apparently remains seriously ill.   Ryan is a seasoned rider, 40 years of age and retired in 2012 after his uncle's death at another road-racing event at the Isle of Man, but decided to 'un-retire' a year later.

In the second accident, in spite of roadside medical help, the young man was not so fortunate and was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.   All the more tragic given that he was a young guy in his first ever visit to the NorthWest200.   Malachi-Mitchell Thomas was 20 and was well respected as someone who knew what he was about - he had already won the Manx Senior Race at the Isle of Man in 2015 and was fighting for a podium finish at the NW200 when he crashed.

I have very mixed feelings about these sorts of events nowadays - there are several smaller road races all over Ireland during the summer season.  When I was younger of course I was mesmerised by the speed, the colours, the sounds.   These days I find it harder to enjoy the NW200 - I seem to be more aware of the dangers involved than anything else.  Clearly no-one is forcing these young men and women to participate - they are doing it because of the thrill, the adrenaline, the rush. I don't know - perhaps, as organiser Mervyn Whyte says, we should concentrate on making events like this safer.  It's a tough one.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Grandstand seats

OK, so not maybe grandstand seats, but they got close to the action:

This couple were crossing over the road between races.  It would appear they were well prepared, with seats and chiller.  Wonder what was inside the chiller...

These lot were engaged in something, probably flicking through the Race Programme...

...while these fine figures of men were mostly content to stand:

The restaurant in the background there was doing good trade in burgers, chips and, no doubt, filled sodas...

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

People watching

Right so, yer man here, taking a break from Marshalling Duty at the road races:

And then these two ladies.  Where else in the world would you find ladies of a certain age clambering over (or rather, under) a barbed wire fence, trying to get closer to the motorbikes?

I enjoyed the NW200 this year - not for the bikes, mind, more for the antics of the people who come to watch them.  The lady above there - the one with the shades, not the one on all fours - spied me with the camera and gave me a laugh and a wave, to which I responded similarly.  I mean, what else can you do?!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Filled Sodas

It is, as we discovered last Thursday, hungry work for those lads and ladettes spectating at the motorbike races:

When I see the immortal words 'Filled Sodas' it reminds me of a few years ago.  For those of you not familiar with it, soda bread is a traditional Irish bread, made with flour and buttermilk.  It's typically cut into triangular shapes, then cut into two and filled with anything you want - bacon, sausage, egg, any combination you like, or usually all three.

Anyway, a few years ago I was on my way to an important meeting (Ed: Aren't all meetings important?) and felt the need to stop for a bite to eat.  Normally I would have had my sandwiches with me, but not today - no, that would have been too easy.  I stopped at a service station which did hot food and ordered a filled soda.  Now you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of filled sodas I've had in the 50+ years of life on this earth - it would not normally be something I would go for.  But on this occasion it seemed like a good idea.  The lady doing the cooking was about to hand it over when she hesitated and asked if I would like an egg in it as well.  What the heck, I thought, why not push the boat out and have an egg in it - sure what could possibly go wrong?

As I sat in the car some minutes later and bit into the soda I found out exactly what could go wrong.  The soft fried egg, of course, squirted out all over the front of my crisp, white, business shirt.  And I was not near enough home to go change, the meeting was looming and I still had an hour to drive to get there.  To say that panic set in, was, dear readers, an understatement.

By good fortune I was close to the hotel where I swim regularly, so in I dashed into the changing rooms, covering everything up under a coat as I passed the receptionist and washed the shirt out in the sink as best I could.  Then it was a mad time to get the thing dry enough to wear (using a hairdryer), trying my best to hide the creases and marks that remained.  Eventually I got the shirt into some sort of acceptable state and I headed off to my meeting, where as you can guess I was not on top form.  Somehow I got through it, but it was a traumatic experience.

So, my friends, should you ever find yourselves in Ulster, beware the Filled Sodas.

Saturday, 21 May 2016


These lith prints didn't come out so good, but since you get warts and all on this place I'll show them anyway.

Not quite sure about that first one, I had high hopes for it.  Perhaps I lifted it too early out of the developer.

This was an old one which again I thought might take the lith well...but it's a bit wishy-washy, as you can see.  I didn't re-do either of these - the lith sessions end up being fairly long and after a couple of hours I'm all out of energy.  Still, all good fun when the notion takes you.

Been busy these days - the garden has sprung into life and so needs some serious attention.  Not that I'm really cut out for that sort of thing, you understand, being of a delicate disposition and all that.  But I enjoy working outside, pottering about, cutting back, planting a bit and what have you.  It's nice to be out in the air, after a long winter and cold early spring.  Onions have been put in, some climbing beans and even some lettuce.  The strawberries have over-wintered well and are starting to show signs of life.  The berry bushes are looking great - we should have loads this year by the look of things.  I even had to water them for a couple of nights this week, although there's been enough rain in the last 24 hours to last a week I reckon.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Hill

Snapped up while wandering around Portstewart, during the races:

I like it - it is what it is.  On the Pentax 135mm at f/3.5, in case you were wondering.

Strange thing is, I had the ASA set to 400, as I thought I had HP5+ loaded.  I developed the film in ID-11, 1+3 for 20mins, as per usual these days.  Negs came out pretty perfect - perhaps a tad contrasty, but should be easy to print, I thought to myself.  Then I noticed it was FP4+, which has a box speed of 125.  Hmm.  Interesting!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Mad Sunday

Aye...indeed.  A Mad Sunday it might have been on the Isle of Man in 2012....

This was a Mad Thursday Morning in 2016 in The Liberties, down near York Corner on Practice Day at the NW200.  Yer Man there watching the bikes an' all.  Mad...

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The First Tee

OK so down we went, last Thursday morning it was, to Portstewart when the NW200 road race practice was on.  Just to see what the craic was.

There were a few folk around, the weather was pleasant and we saw a few bikes fly past, like this one:

I wasn't close enough for the bikes, really, this is just an idea of what you see for a split second as they hurtle past at speeds well into 3 figures.

I was using a new one for me, a little Pentax ME Super what The Brother sent over last Christmas.  The euphoria was slightly tarnished by HM Revenue and Customs, who took their pound of flesh (yes, VAT and handling charge still apply on a 25+ year old camera).  It had been lying in a drawer in Chicago somewhere for the best part of 20 years getting no attention.  A couple of new batteries and it seemed to fire up OK, and from the look of these negs all the seals are still OK.  Good news.  On the front of it I had a petite 135mm f/3.5 lens.  Usefully it has a 49mm filter thread, so I was able to swap the yellow filter on Missy's OM1 and put it on the SMC Pentax-M.

I'd never used an ME before and it really does fit in the hand really nicely.  It's tiny - even smaller I think than the OM1, and that's saying something.  And that 135mm lens is also very compact, it's a combination you could take almost anywhere.  As you can probably tell, I liked it - a lot.  The ME Super is aperture priority auto most of the time (no shutter speeds on a dial or anything like that).  You can override it and there are various buttons on the top dial where the shutter speed should be but I'm not quite sure what they all do yet.  In the viewfinder you get a view very similar to a Nikon FM3a - all the shutter speeds are shown down the left hand side and a little green LED lights up against the one that the camera's brain thinks is more or less correct for the chosen aperture.  I left it on auto for this film and the camera seemed to cope fine.  The speeds go up to 1/2000 and the 135mm lens stops down to f/32...pretty impressive stuff.

Rather than take the bikes, badly, I thought I'd take some shots of people, also badly.

This gentleman came ready for all the action and had positioned himself on the top of the First Tee of the 'Old Course', as it is known in Portstewart, which runs alongside the road for the first (and last) few holes.

Lucky for him the golf course was closed that day, due to the racing.  Lovely view there if he'd turned himself around...Inishowen in the background and all.

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Brother's coming

I'm excited about July.  The Brother is coming, along with #1 daughter.  That has several implications for us here in The Liberties.

Naturally enough, it means getting supplies in.  Lots of supplies.  He is a creature of habit, The Brother, and has been known to be fond of the local produce when he is 'back home'.  So there might be the odd cooked breakfast or three.  Apparently you can't get decent bacon in the mid-west of the United States of America.  That I doubt, but I daresay it's different to what we get here.  And so I indulge him.  It won't be the Traditional Ulster Fry, more the Contemporary Ulster Grill, as a nod to political correctness (and health).

The Brother in 2014.  I lithed him on Fomatone MG131.  This one's for the wall.

As for the #1 daughter, I'm not sure what she needs, although I suspect she will be a little less fussy than her old man.  We'll see.

#1 Daughter, not posing at all in the West Chicago 'burbs.
I'm hugely looking forward to them coming over.  There's only the two of us boys, you see and we don't get to see each other often enough.  So it will be great to spend some quality time with him.  The highlight of the visit will be an overnight in Rathlin Island, although he doesn't know it yet.  Unless he's reading this blog, of course, which I doubt.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Road Racing in The Liberties

I may have posted this lot before, but maybe not.  Probably I should start tagging my posts, which might make it easier to find what I actually have posted, rather than trawling through them month-by-month, one at a time.  I know - you'd think what with my computery sciencey background and all I'd have that sussed.  No excuses, mea culpa.

So, since this week is Race Week in The Liberties here are a selection of shots from the North West 200.  I found these in various places from Mother's Stash of Old Photographs - some prints and some negs.  Not sure of the dates, but I'd hazard a guess around the 1930s or 40s. I haven't printed any of the negs, but I will some day - just 'cos I like the idea of being to print a neg taken some 70+ years ago.

I like this last one, too - not so much for the 'action shot', but for the fact that not even the stone pillars have a straw bale in front of them to give the rider a chance should he come a cropper on that wet road surface:

Nowadays there are straw bales dotted around the circuit, on lampposts, pillars and the like.  But to be honest if you come off at high speed no amount of straw or anything else is going to make much of a difference.  Michael Rutter, who is one of the current crop of riders (and whose father Tony I took snaps of in the 70s) says that on the road circuits like the NW200 he rides about 80%, whereas on dedicated circuits, with proper run-offs and what have you he'll give it his all.  Sounds like a sensible strategy.

There was some racing last night but due to a house on the circuit catching fire (looked like a BBQ incident - probably drink involved :) and an accident (not fatal) racing was stopped early.  The weather is still holding up well - full sun and pretty warm so here's hoping for a good day's racing - and a safe day - on Saturday.

PS If you want to see what it's all about, check out this video.  The guys are pretty close to each other at 189mph at 1min15s in.

Thursday, 12 May 2016


Well I had a marathon darkroom session yesterday.  More lith work, which is slow to begin with and tends to get slower as the developer exhausts - at least that's my take on it.  It doesn't help when you try to re-use the old developer from last week for your first print...after 20mins there was nothing happening, so I gave up and mixed some new Moersch EasyLith.

I was a bit stingy with it...only mixed 1 litre - that's 15ml of both A and B and the rest water.  Plus I added about 75ml of the old developer, 'cos I read somewhere that's what you are supposed to do.  It must have been OK, since the next prints went more or less according to plan.  You have to remember to open up the lens by about 2 stops from your normal exposure and I forgot to do that for one print.  Fortunately I realised my mistake before putting the print in the developer, so was able to just give it some more exposure...I just guessed and it sort of came out OK, but clearly not ideal.

Just a scan, this one, of Mr Road Racing himself - the late, great Joey Dunlop.  A local lad, from Armoy and he won just about everything there is to win on a bike, including an amazing 26 Isle of Man TT victories.  His brother Robert was also a road racer and was killed at the North West 200 in 2008.  Robert's children, William and Michael still race and are on the circuit this week.  Hopefully there will be no accidents this year, but at speeds of up to 200mph on normal roads when an accident does happen it tends to end badly.

I was almost done and dusted, with the prints taking around the 10 minute mark to come good.  I decided one more would be it and dunked the final print in the developer mix, only to see nothing really come up until 20mins had passed.  Eventually something appeared, but I think it's safe to say I'd reached the end-of-life for this particular mix.  Just for the record that would be 8 prints, roughly 9.5x6 in size - that would be a sheet of Fomatone131 9.5x12 paper cut in half, approximately :)

So the prints are dry and are currently lying under a heap of old LPs in an attempt to get them reasonably flat.  Then they'll get scanned and put on this place before some of them are posted to various places.  Worth the wait, hopefully.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


These from the usual place:

I'm hoping to get into the darkroom this afternoon - got a few negs on my list to print.  One for the latest FADU Print Exchange and something for this guy over there on the rigs.

It's a busy week over here in The Liberties, what with the NorthWest200 motorbike races and all.  There's usually a big crowd and so far they've had some decent weather for a change.  Temperatures hitting 20 degrees, which is very pleasant. Tomorrow, all being well, I plan to head down to Portstewart with a camera.  Not to take bike photos, but maybe take some people snaps.  I did the bike photographs in my youth - poking my 200mm OM lens through a slap in the hedge.  Nowadays you can't get near the circuit, due to health and safety, so I leave the bike snapping to the digital peeps with their 400mm+ lenses.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The sea

Another lith print from Castlerock beach

I know it's a bit wonky.  These things happen from time to time in the darkroom :)

Monday, 9 May 2016

Barmouth at Castlerock

A couple more from the walk up Castlerock beach a while ago...just scans this time.

Had a busy couple of days in The Liberties - an old friend and his wife flew in for the weekend.  It was great to catch up - we had some decent weather so made it out and about a bit.  Martin is into his photography too - usually digital although he did have one of these on pre-order and just got it delivered a few weeks ago.  The company, I understand, was started by a couple of his ex-students...not the usual enterprise for electronics/computer scientist people, but there you go.  Unfortunately he didn't bring it over with him, so had no chance to compare it to the Sinar.  

Friday, 6 May 2016

Some old 'chromes

On the Archive today I bring you some old Kodachromes, from 1987.  Taken when I was visiting Lancashire, near Lytham if memory serves me correctly.

Don't ask me what was going on here - I have no idea, beyond the fact we were on The Flyde coast, taking the air or what have you.

Makes me want to shoot some colour slide film when I look at these.  I did buy a few Provia last year and they've sat in my fridge since then.  Perhaps it's time to get one out and have a play...

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Castlerock beach, Lith

A good bracing walk along Castlerock beach it was.  Actually a bit too bracing, so I took to the dunes to shelter me from the worst of the wind.

Here's what things looked like after a dunk in Moersch EasyLith developer (Foma 131 paper):

I'm enjoying this process, I have to say.  I was using 15ml A + 15ml B and then a good slosh of water to bring it up to about a litre in volume.  Temperature was slightly higher than normal - around 25 degrees. Nothing much happened for the first 5mins and then things started to appear bit by bit.  By about 10 mins I pulled the print.  As time went on and the temperature dropped the dev times got a bit longer.  By the end of the session the temperature was down to about 20 degrees and times were up to about 13mins.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Hound Tales

Sometimes I do feel a bit sorry for the Hound, as he tends to get shouted at to get out of the way when the camera is raised to me eyes.  But this time I didn't and here he is, spoiling another masterpiece on Portstewart Strand:

He's got that look about him - waiting for me to throw the ball, y'know.  He thinks he's working when we're on the beach (him being a working dog breed and all) - that's my take on it anyway.  The ball is his sheep.  He's very antisocial - can't bear another dog coming close to him and gives them 'the look' if they encroach his personal space.  If that doesn't work then a bit of a snap usually gets the message across.  It's most unlike him - he really is a big softie, it's just when there's a ball and play/work involved.  If you're a dog just don't get in his way, that would be my advice.

Ah go on, then, here's another of him:

That wee sideways glance there, that's a 'Did you notice? - I got the ball' sort of glance.  And yes, you are correct, he is in some state when we get back from the beach most mornings - wet and full of sand.  The sand gets deposited around our house in various piles as his coat dries off.  It's not as bad as it sounds, as we have tiled floors, so it's easy enough to sweep up.

He'll be 11 this year.  Getting on then.  Like us all, eh?

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

A double first

I had a good Sunday in the darkroom - first time using fibre paper and first time using Lith developer.  And here is my very first Lith print, on Fomatone Warmtone Classic131 glossy paper via Moersch Easylith.

It's a bit dark but still I like it.  Snapped up on FP4+ in Ballintoy - a nice old cave with the limestone rock providing a nice contrast and gritty texture.