Thursday, 6 August 2020

Me and John Hume

Silly title of course - it should me John Hume and me, since he had an ever-so-slightly higher profile that yours truly. In case you hadn’t heard, Nobel Laureate and Politican John Hume passed away this week. His funeral in Derry took place yesterday. 

It is difficult to underplay the impact John Hume had in the politics of this part of the world. He was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement in Derry in the late 1960s. Fast forward 20 years and he was the guy who brought Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Provisional IRA, to the table for peace talks.  Then he became a principal architect of the Good Friday Agreement.  He received (jointly, with David Trimble) the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998. He was human, though, so he didn’t get it right 100% of the time, but then again, Who did?  

When I joined the academic staff of Magee, Ulster University’s Derry/Londonderry campus, I was put forward as the University’s representative on a forum that went by the name of the Derry Investment Initiative. The role of DII was to drive inward investment to the City, initially from the US and later from Dublin. John Hume was DII’s secret weapon.

Nothing to do with John Hume - just a still life of some old stuff.  Darkroom print from Ilford FP4+ on Foma 133 paper.

So for a few years, I was invited to DII’s various initiatives to try to bring employment, primarily in STEM subjects, to the city. Perhaps once or twice a year we would jet off to Washington DC or Dublin and 'do the rounds' to business leaders and potential investors at large Organised Events and do some hospitality at smaller functions.  I was there to represent the University and sing the praises of the (high) quality of our graduates, particularly in the fields of Computing & Engineering.  It was an easy job.  The Mayor was there to represent the City in an official capacity. Others were there from Government, to talk about the various support measures available. A few Business leaders were there to tell their stories from the coal face, so to speak and Mr Hume was there (in name if not always in person) to get people’s attention and open doors. This was, remember, shortly after a serving US President came to Derry at Mr Hume’s invitation, so he had some serious clout in Washington.

These were interesting events...a far cry from my usual day of University teaching, research and admin.  We got to speak to some big tech companies - where everyone was VP of something or other.  (I quickly learnt that job titles in these companies meant diddly-squat).  One one occasion we got to Capitol Hill, though it was a rushed affair. I can’t even remember the name of the Senator or Congressman we spoke to but it was pretty obvious that minutes before we arrived he’d redecorated his office with an Irish Flag and other bits&pieces relating to the Emerald Isle. I got the impression as we left after our allotted 20 minutes that his staff were getting ready for his next visitors from Mexico or wherever.  He was well enough briefed, he listened well and said all the right things.  Who knows what, if any, impact came of it.  His staff, I do recall, could have easily got second jobs with Mr Hugh Hefner, by the way - young, leggy, highly-presentable girls with curves in all the right places.  As I say, they were interesting times.

The Dublin events were more intimate affairs where we would book a room in a nice restaurant and invite just a few potential investors to enjoy 'An evening with John Hume (and the Derry Investment Initiative)'.  The food was top class and Mr Hume would lead the evening's discussion.  As the evening wore on, we'd all said our piece and everyone around the table relaxed Mr Hume would have everyone's attention as he related various stories and anecdotes about his times in Washington and as Member of the European Parliament.  He was always discreet but very, very entertaining and gave everyone there a little insight into his world.  Fascinating stuff.  I remember one story he told about former House Speaker Tipp O'Neill when he first visited Derry.  John had done his homework and as they went for a drive around Donegal he was able to point out the various places that Tipp O'Neill's ancestors had come from not so many generations ago (his grandmother came from Buncrana, a small town in Donegal not far from Derry).  As they came across the shell that would have made up the ancestral home John stopped the car, got out and handed one of the stones to Tipp for him to take back to Washington with him - to sit on his desk and remind him of his Irish roots.  It was, John related, quite an emotional moment for Tipp and it sealed a very strong friendship between the two men.  

Mr Hume was very well known in Derry, of course, and although he moved in very different circles to the rest of us in many respects he never really left the city.  He could often be seen at the University, where he would wander into the canteen on his own and sit down between the students and staff to eat his lunch.  He was always happy to chat to anyone who chose to sit down beside him - there were no airs and graces and he'd be the first to ask How are things or What's new in your life?  A colleague recounts John sticking his head around the door of an ongoing seminar and saying 'Well boys, Who wants to meet President Clinton next week?'.  Now there's a question you don't get asked every day of the week...

It was a cruel fate that dementia robbed John Hume of much of his dignity in recent years.  He was, from what I read, unable to remember pretty much anything of his remarkable life.  I feel very lucky to have met him and to have spent so much time in his company.  His impact on the politics and life in this part of the world will be felt for many years to come.

John Hume, 1937-2020

Monday, 3 August 2020

Back At the Show

I revisited the Ballymoney Agricultural Show negatives the other day and printed a couple that I thought warranted a second look.

'Catching up', Ballymoney Show 2019. Kenthene paper.

I like the gentleman's ruddy complexion in comparison to the lady's.  Clearly he spends a lot of time outdoors.  The rosette marks him out as a judge, by the way - not a Category Winner ;)

"Family Day Out".  Adox MCC paper.

I had high hopes for the 2020 Agricultural Shows, as I found them a good opportunity to waste even more film than usual, but obviously they had to be cancelled.  Hopefully next year - if we're all living and spared - things will get back to something near normality and the Shows will be running again. 

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Ballintoy Harbour

Yes it's that place again.  Well it is a pretty special place, is Ballintoy.  In fact I was there last night with a few film shooters - although the light was flat and I was foundered.  Still, it was good to be out with some like-minded folk for a while.  

Anyway, this one was from a while back:

That harbour again, on Kenthene fixed grade paper.

It needed a bit of work - and still needs a bit more burning in on the top left to balance it out.  The whole sky got a few extra seconds as did the water in the harbour, as well as the foreground, just to pull things in a little.  That's the Western End of Rathlin Island just emerging from the mist in the background, by the way.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Money for Old Rope

OK maybe not old rope, perhaps twine would be a better description.  And no money has changed hands - yet.  I live in hope.  

Still not out&about much so relying on finding things of interest to photograph in the 'studio'.  The studio being an old table in the garage with some natural light coming in from a side window.  

Some old twine, on Foma 133 paper, toned.

 It's Monday morning here and I'm just checking this before publishing it.  Not that there's much to check, I know...  Anyway, it's a bit of a miserable morning here, the rain is coming down very steadily and there won't be much done outside today.  It's not cold, just very, very wet.  Usually in this part of the world there are two possible outcomes for how things progress weather-wise.  Often when it's wet in the early part of the day it will fair later and we could be in for an absolutely beautiful evening.  Alternatively, it will rain all day.  I'm going to be brave and opt for the former.  Time will tell.

The ongoing effects of COVID-19 are becoming all too apparent around the North Coast.  I went out for a newspaper for my mother early Saturday morning, as I usually do.  I had a couple of other errands to do so I made the mistake of driving through Portstewart Promenade.  Now it was about 10am and already the place was bunged - cars everywhere, delivery lorries double-parked as usual and the place was chaos.  In the middle of it all a woman with two very young children (walking, but only just) decided to stop the traffic so she and her children could cross the road.  Complete madness, given that there is a pedestrian crossing with traffic lights not 100 yards away.  But no, she wanted to cross right then and there and so that's what she did.  I  wonder if she had any idea how much danger she was putting her kids in by doing such a thing. 

Presumably most people have decided not to go abroad this summer and are spending the summer 'at home'...or rather, 'on the North Coast', in caravans, rented houses and campervans or just for day trips.  At any rate, this part of the world is rapidly becoming a place to be avoided at all costs during the summer months.  So if you were thinking of a short visit, please think again.  Come in September, not now.  We're full. 


Thursday, 23 July 2020

Le Touriste

Still working away on my Still Life tables - gathering more bits&pieces from my mother's house and trying to set them out in some half-sensible way to tell a story.  This is the latest effort, using the 'Blad, some old FP4+ and a 60mm lens:

Le Touriste, 2020.  Hasselblad/FP4+/60mm on Foma 133 fibre paper

My Uncle's old briefcase is the perfect period piece, as is his Omega Seamaster watch.  I burned in the face of the watch a little, as it was catching the light.  I could have probably given it a bit more.  There's natural light coming through the garage window to the right hand side and I'm holding a large foil reflector just out of shot on the left to balance it out a bit.  Exposure was around the 6s mark, allowing for reciprocity failure.  I'm not a smoker, by the way, but my brother-in-law is so last time he was down I asked him to keep me some of his butts.  Lovely, I know - and they really stink, so I keep them in a small sealed plastic food container and only bring them out for the shot.  I'm sure he must think I'm not right in the head...and he might be right.

This was developed in good old Multigrade and then bleached back prior to sepia toning, just as in the gooseberries print the other day.  I overprinted it slightly, by maybe 1/2 a stop to allow for the bleach but even though I pulled the print early from the bleach stage as I was toning the print it looked like I'd lost most of the writing on the 'Touriste' card and the Royal Automobile Club 'France' map in the foreground.  But it's funny old game, the darkroom thing is, as after washing and drying it was all good - the lettering is, as you can see, still visible.

Monday, 20 July 2020


We have three gooseberry bushes in the garden and apart from the year when I pruned them too hard at the end of the previous summer they generally produce a decent crop.  The trick is picking them at the right time - too early and, well, they're just hard and sour.  Leave it too late and they go brown and mushy.  We were almost too late this year, but got a few decent ones to make either jam or chutney with - although I'm thinking this year of trying a gooseberry fool.  Gooseberries are not, of course, the easiest fruit to pick, on account of the the ferocious thorns.  You can't wear too thick a glove otherwise you can't feel for the fruit but it seems that no matter how well you try to protect your hands those thorns will find a way through...

Anyway, we liberated a few and before they got thrown in a pan I whipped them into the garage for a quick snap with the 'Blad and here is the result from yesterday morning's darkroom session:

Gooseberries on Foma 133 paper, sepia toned

I'm still learning about the Foma 133 paper.  In a warmtone developer such as WT-10 it can be very warm - maybe too warm.  In multigrade developer, which is what I used here, it appears to be much more neutral and more like Ilford's Warmtone paper.  After the usual wash I dunked the print in standard sepia bleach (potassium ferricyanide/potassium bromide mix).   Not for very long, though - just enough to see the bleach starting to take affect.  Then a wash for 10 mins followed by the toner stage.  I prefer using a very dilute toner and then toning to completion.  

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Picnic at Portaneevy

After the exhilaration of seeing the school of dolphins/purpoises at Ballintoy the other day Missy & I drove a bit further round the Antrim coast road.  Not far after Ballintoy is Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and just past that is the picnic area and viewing point at Portaneevy.  Here lies one of the best views along this part of the Antrim Coast road.  Way to the West you have Donegal, just off-shore you have Rathlin Island and past that (visible on a good day) the Western Scottish Isles of Islay (25 miles) and Jura (50 miles).  Kintyre lies 24 miles to the East.  A stone slab informs you we are about 1300 miles from Cape Farewell in Greenland and 800 miles from Iceland, in case you were wondering.  This is the view to the West, looking at the Rope Bridge in the foreground and Sheep Island in the background.  The little white dots you might just be able to make out on the headland are sheep-things:

View from Portaneevy towards the Rope Bridge and Sheep Island.  On Ilford Cooltone RC paper
The shot is nicely unsharp from the accidental use of the Softar Filter on the 'Blad, as explained last time.  

One of the benefits of COVID-19 is the slightly fewer tourists at this time of year.  Usually places like Portaneevy are best avoided in the summer months, as coachloads of people fill them up.   But last week it was almost empty - a few locals having picnics on the grass and that was it.  However, with the lockdown easing up here in Northern Ireland I think it'll be September before I venture out that way again - although perhaps an early morning/evening trip might be OK.  

Picnic-ers (incorrect use of hypen I know but without it the word looks very strange) are great to observe.  Older folks have their Thermos Flasks (ideally a red tartan design) with tea, proper ceramic cups or, at a pinch, mugs, and home-made sandwiches.  Younger ones tend to forego the tea in favour of bottled water or pop of some variety and store-bought sandwiches or wraps and crisps.  Yes, I know, How sad am I for noting these things but I can't help it - people are interesting to watch.  When we were young the Thermos Flask and sandwiches came with us on every Sunday outing without fail and it always makes me smile when I see people still doing that.  In order to keep the water as hot as possible the Thermos has to be pre-heated with boiling water, of course.  Then that first fill is discarded and replaced with freshly boiled water just before you leave the house.  Since us Irish have to take milk in our tea (I think it's the law) a small glass bottle is filled with milk - something like an old cough mixture bottle is perfect, although you might need to seal the top with a bit of cling film or even tin foil so as to prevent spillage.  Sugar (in those days we all had sugar in our tea) was usually in sachet form, squirrelled away in a handbag from the last cafe or hotel that was visited.  Sandwiches, as I said, were always home-made - money was tight enough for pretty much everyone in those days.  The thing that caught my eye with the picnic-ers with the Thermos Flask at Portaneevy that day was the milk - a dirty great 2-litre plastic milk container plonked in the middle of the wooden picnic table for the whole world to see.  Standards, my friends, are slipping...