Monday, 30 March 2020

Lifeguards (again)

Every time I'm up on the dunes on Portstewart Strand I turn and look out over the lifeguards hut.  For some reason I have the urge to take a photograph - even though I've taken several before (here, for example).   I think it must be one of the nicer beaches to be working at, if you're a lifeguard.  Although like all beaches around the coast, it has its dangers.  The Atlantic Ocean and excited kids aren't always the match made in heaven.

The Lifeguard Hut on Portstewart Strand, March 2019.  On Barclay graded paper.

Taken on the FM3a with the Vivitar 35-85mm zoom (actually, an auto-variable focussing lens, if you're a stickler for accuracy, which means you have to re-focus every time you change the focal length.  Not a big deal).   It has a strange screw-in lens cap which I find also unscrews any filter you might have left on the lens when you take it off, which is a pain.  But I tend to take the cap off as I leave the house and don't put it on again until I'm back home, so again, no big deal.  It's an f/2.8 across the focal length range, so has a nice big 72mm front element on it - care is required!  Apparently, it has some 'cult' status, whatever that means for a mass-produced 1970s lens I'm not sure - it's not big bucks to buy, anyway and I've had a lot of fun with it.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Do not swim near rocks

This sign, painted on the supporting wall of the steps, has been at the pedestrian entrance to Portstewart Strand ever since I can remember.  It always make me smile, as only someone a sandwich short of picnic would contemplate swimming here.  Or so you might think, anyway. I can tell you there are many swimmers and surfers in the water not too far away from these rocks on many days of the year. 

The good old days, when you could stand closer than 2m to someone else (last week).  HP5+ via FM3a on Ilford Cooltone paper.

The tide was well in the other day when I snapped up these two ladies contemplating the view over to Donegal.  They didn't look dressed for the water - I presume they were just out taking the air.  Normally this bit of the Strand is not under water, so you can walk down the steps on the beach proper.  Not this day, of course - unless you wanted to get your feet wet.

I looked up the origins of the use of the word 'strand' to mean beach.  It's widely used in this part of the world but I never heard it used when I lived in England.  My two minutes of desktop research indicated that it comes from old Norse or Germanic (Norse strönd, meaning border, edge or shore).

Monday, 23 March 2020

A Post

I took this last week, on what might well be my last walk on Portstewart Strand for a good while.  In my defence, I was up on the dunes (where almost no-one goes) and it was very early in the morning.  I saw one other person from a good distance away, walking his dog.  I think they've closed the beach now, since it was getting a little silly with everyone flocking to the seaside to 'self-isolate'.  Hmm.

A post, on Barclay lustre grade 3 paper

Yes, it was very overcast...

Taken on the FM3a with an old Vivitar Series 1 35-85 zoom, a combination I hadn't used in a long while.  It's not the sharpest lens on the planet by modern standards but it's a hefty chunk of glass and I like it. It's my only zoom lens!

Thursday, 19 March 2020

School's out (for ever!)

Uncertain times in the world right now.  Here in The Liberties life is a little quieter than has closed up for the foreseeable and there are good reasons to leave the car where it is and not to venture out.  Of course you still need a dander down the road from time to time to keep things moving and take the air - hopefully our air is still relatively clean, coming as it does across the Atlantic before it hits us.  And it helps not to listen too much to the doom and gloom coming from the media - still too many unchecked and conflicting stories out there.  We might all have to make to do with a little less for a while - no bad thing, perhaps.

Fortunately the darkroom is well-stocked and so I was able to get in there yesterday morning.  Missy was, of course, enjoying an extended lie-in so the house was quiet.  This shot was from a while ago - a couple of years ago at least.  I like the Maths scribbled on the back of her hand:

HP5+ on very old Barclay graded paper.  It has a lustre finish and is quite unlike any other paper I have encountered.  I wish it was still available as there is a real sparkle to it - as well as quite a nice range of tones, as you can see.  Cropped from 35mm to the much superior square format ;)

I'm not sure there'll be very much of this happening for a while, since it's looking like exams might be cancelled, or at least postponed for the foreseeable.  Of course as a responsible parent I'm trying to convince Missy that this is the ideal time to catch up on missed work and get in good shape for when exams do re-commence (as they must, at some stage).  We'll see how well that goes down.

You will of course notice that Missy is 'plugged in' - or at least her ears are.  Now this is something I just don't understand.  When I was a lad I needed complete silence to study.  But pretty much everyone now of a certain age needs more-or-less continuous aural stimulation.  It's a different world, of course, to the '60s and '70s...

Can you believe that old Alice Cooper track (this one) is nearly 50 years old?  Where are the Alice Coopers of today, I wonder - all we seem to hear about is the likes of Ed Sheerin and Lewis Capaldi those guys who look like the bloke next door.  Talented, no doubt, but where's the rebellion?  Maybe I shouldn't speak too soon - it might be around the corner.   And then we could all be in trouble, eh?

Monday, 16 March 2020


Today I'm re-posting some shots from Bath and of the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases.  Unfortunately I'm not re-posting them for a good reason...

I found out a couple of days that my mate Dan has passed away.  Dan was a year or so younger than me and was a regular attendee at 'The Min', as the hospital is affectionally known (The Mineral Water Hospital, a nod to the healing powers of the Bath Springs that dates back to Roman times and earlier). Dan had probably one of the worst cases of ankylosing spondylitis (AS) I've known - totally fused neck and spine due to the formation of bony growths between the joints, the main problem with AS.  He had both hips replaced and also his TMJs - the temporomandibular joints (the ones that allows your jaw to open and close).  As a result he found it very difficult to open his mouth very far, which made eating and drinking problematic - when he was last well enough to visit us here in The Liberties a good few years ago my wife had to cut up his food for him. Added to that he couldn't tolerate the medications very well, so spend long periods of his life on steroids and crazy strong 'old' drugs they don't normally prescribe nowadays.  One of the side-effects was near constant iritis (inflammation of the iris of the eye), which required steroid drops into the eye every day for over a year.  I can tell you from personal experience that when your neck and back are fused putting drops in your eye is not the easiest thing to do.  So yes, it's fair to say life dealt Dan a pretty poor hand.

The Min, in the centre of Bath.  Needs a good clean to show off the sandstone brick properly.  The building is now a hotel...the services of The Min have moved to the newer hospital on the outskirts of the town.

In spite of his poor health, Dan kept himself busy and was always a good guy to be around.  He got immense enjoyment from his live music (he was a huge fan of Wilko Johnson but went to pretty much any gig he could get to in his home town). He loved his football, too, and was still able to go to home games at The Amex, the new ground for Brighton and Hove Albion ("The Seagulls").  He liked his books.  And he was a member of the Sons of the Desert - the Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society.  Dan was a huge supporter of NASS - the UK organisation for sufferers of Ankylosing Spondylitis and their families.  He founded and ran a local self-help group for sufferers in his home town, which met every week, providing physiotherapy and hydrotherapy as well as emotional support.  Dan made the best of his situation.

Life in The Min, Bath, 2018

As if things couldn't get any worse for Dan, the plot thickened a year or so ago, when his kidneys decided not to function as well as they should.  He was forced to start kidney dialysis - three times a week at his local hospital (which meant he could no longer get to Bath for treatment).  He was waiting to see if a transplant became available when he went into hospital last week for his usual dialysis.  This isn't the place to go into details (and the full story is as yet unknown - post-portem and inquest are pending) but suffice to say an event occurred which meant he couldn't be saved.

A rich history of helping people with arthritis in The Royal National

It wasn't meant to end this way.  Nothing directly associated with his AS.  Not having a bad fall on some ice or snow.  Not run over by a bus he didn't see when crossing the road.  Not due to complications with his medications.  No, what started out as a relatively 'normal' day for Dan ended in his demise - and in a hospital of all places, surrounded by healthcare professionals.

The Raven, close to 'The Min', Bath

My best memories of Dan are from the many, many courses we attended in Bath together.  The craic was always great when Dan was around and in the evenings he was up for a beer or two in one of the local hostelries (like The Raven, above), which helped us get through what was a totally unreal experience...couped up for 2 weeks of physical therapy with a dozen or so strangers from all walks of life.  He was one of the good guys.   I'll miss him.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Watch the nettles, Audrey

For once the title bears no relevance to the print - it's a phrase I heard the other night on some local TV programme about farming life in County Tyrone and it had me in stitches.

Anyway, today's offering is from that prison hospital place in Bergamo.  Bear in mind there was no commentary about the place so we were left to guess what it was all about.  This chair was just sitting in one of the rooms and it was very strange.  It looked like the genuine article and I'm guessing it was used for electro convulsive therapy for patients who had some sort of mental disorder.  But as I say, I'm only guessing...

Take a seat, sir.  Bergamo prison hospital, 2019

This was printed on Ilford Warmtone fibre paper and initially was a pretty poor print.  I tried to resurrect it by bleaching it back in cupric sulphate solution then using hot lith developer (in daylight - one of the advantages of this technique).  This isn't a paper you normally associate with lith but this bleach and redevelopment does produce some interesting lith-like colours.

Monday, 9 March 2020


A shot from a while back, this one, but freshly printed on Adox MCC paper.  Surfing has become a Big Thing here in the Liberties these days, due, I'm told, due to the better wetsuits that have become available.  It's no exaggeration to say that on any day of the week at any time of the year there will be people in the water with their boards - except, perhaps, on days when there is a really bad storm (although even then there's always one eejit willing to risk life and limb for a bit of a rush).

This was late afternoon if I remember correctly and although there wasn't much of a swell there was some weather coming in from the West, as you can see.  Mussenden Temple just sticking out there on the headland, as it does.

Surfer, Portstewart Bay.  On Adox MCC fibre paper, 9.5"x12"

I think I might have printed this once before but without any great success - the negative is a bit thin / lacking in contrast.  However, I came across it again last week and thought Surely I can get something decent outta this. It took a couple of test strips (more than I usually do) but I was happy with the result. It’s a straight print, in case you were wondering (no burning in of sky or anywhere else) - everything done through exposure & contrast in the darkroom.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

The cutters

The only tool that Peter the Shearer needed. Pretty fearsome weapon it looks, too:

The cutters.  On Ilford Classic fibre paper

The cutters cost about £300 and last about a season, if I remember correctly.  The blades need replaced every 20 sheep or so and oiled and cleaned after shearing 2 or 3.  I could be totally wrong in my remembering, of course, so don't quote me on it.  The cutters are air powered - and the compressor, operated by a pull-cord, is another, much bigger, pile of cash.  But then again Graham's wee pet lambs, reared and nurtured as they are, are worth a pound or two.  He donated one to a charity auction a while back and it sold for over £1000, being as it was from Champion stock.  But it kind of misses the point to talk about money - I'm only putting down here the snippets of conversation I recall from that day.  It's a labour of love, this carry on...a full-time job and done not for the money but for the love of the animals and the odd success at the annual shows.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Fancy gates

Another Italian shot today - this little courtyard scene was just opposite our rooms in Bergamo. Very fancy, eh?  I'd like gates like this, but they would be a little out of keeping with the way things are in The Liberties.  Plus some low-life would have them away in no time, such is the way of life these days.   One of my neighbours had an old country pump ('cow-tail') which his family had used to pump water from the ground not so very long ago.   He made a feature of it in his garden and even concreted it in to prevent someone stealing it.  They still took it, though.  He saw afterwards that they must have visited him for a few nights to chip the concrete away before they finally got it.  So I'm going to forget about fancy gates for now.

Bergamo gates, 2019.  HP5 printed on Ilford fibre classic paper

It is printed, as you can see, on Ilford fibre classic paper.  A bit of a story behind that.  I was chatting to Mr Karlsvik (author of this great blog) about Foma and Ilford papers and after a bit of toing-and-froing (as you do) I thought to myself, 'Hmm...I must try that Ilford Classic paper sometime'.  Then last Friday was a miserable day here in the Liberties and not the sort of day to venture outside to do anything much so I tidied up the darkroom a bit - you know the sort of thing, taking a look at what the paper stock situation was and so on.  And low and behold what did I find, right at the bottom of the drawer?  Yup, a box of Ilford fibre classic paper.  Not near full but there's a few sheets left in it.  I had no idea it was hiding there but after thinking about it I have a vague recollection of it being the very first fibre paper I tried a few years ago.  I remember not getting on terribly well with it and that's probably the reason for my shift to mainly Foma and Adox papers recently (and Ilford Warmtone fibre, but that's another story for another day).

Anyway, it was from the time when I didn't really know what I was doing so I was looking forward to printing with it again now I've a bit more experience of the whole darkroom magic.  So yesterday morning I printed a few negatives.  And low and behold it turns out it's a rather nice paper, as you can see above.  But then you probably knew that already if you've used it, of course... This is the glossy version, by the way...