A Day At The Races

Employee engagement is a concept that has gained a lot of recognition in recent years, though it has been around under other names (Job Satisfaction for example) for decades.  The benefits to businesses of achieving engaged employees include lower staff turnover, reduced sickness, better problem solving, greater commitment and so on, and no two businesses approach it in quite the same way.  Factors that affect the level of engagement that employees have include; clarity of goals and expectations, opportunities for development, quality of communication and working relationships etc.

I mention this because today’s pictures are from a day out I recently enjoyed with my colleagues.  A day at the races*.

Thirsk Racecourse was our venue, with a marquee by the finish line, a barbecue lunch, and a constant stream of liquid refreshment.  Topping all of that was the serious business of picking the winners.  For some this is a serious business; studying the form, the size of the field, the handicap carried by the jockey, the behaviour of the horse in the paddock, advice from those “in the know” and  more to identify the dead certainties, dead certainties which seemed determined not to conform with the background data!  For others it was no more scientific than looking for steeds with significant names (a strategy that worked for me in the first race when the classically named Marcus Caesar romped home.  Others just as randomly based their decisions on the colours worn by the riders.   These less logical methods proved just as successful.

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Not a single portrait today, but a montage of candids of my colleagues.  A sensible and sober bunch I’m sure you’d agree…Talent


It was a great day, though in the end I came to grief with Karate Queen.

*Incidentally – A Day At The Races was Queen’s 5th album, and took its name from a Marx Brothers film, as did it’s predecessor A Night At The Opera.  Luckily they followed it with News Of The World rather than Duck Soup!

Customer Satisfaction

In my day job all week I’ve been focusing on impressing the employees of a Japanese manufacturing company with the importance of giving great customer service as the only long-term way of differentiating themselves from their competitors (products being so easy to copy by determined rivals).  We’ve considered whether the customer is or isn’t always right, and concluded that it doesn’t really matter.  They are the customer, they have a problem, it’s our job to solve it.

It’s ironic therefore that I ended up with a dissatisfied customer of my own this afternoon.

On getting home from work, I noticed that my eldest daughter Megan had some make up on, having been shopping in town.  Now Megan is a reluctant participant in my search for beautiful pictures, and if she doesn’t feel 100% happy with her look will usually refuse any requests.  Today was one of those lucky occasions when she felt able to confront the lens, and for me to put my new-found knowledge of the MKIII autofocusing to good use (after a bit of serious reading last night).  Positioning her to take advantage of some nice soft light coming through a north facing window I took one shot and nailed it.  No further shooting required.

A little cropping and processing the raw file and very quickly I had what I considered to be a beautiful shot.

I posted it on her Facebook timeline, and almost immediately it attracted a positive response from one of her friends.

More feedback followed saying how gorgeous she looked, but Megan’s response to this was “I don’t like it!”  though when pressed she couldn’t explain why.  I sought a second opinion from her sister Holly, who hadn’t seen the picture at that point.  Logging onto Facebook we found that the image had gone.  It seems that the customer had voted with her feet!

Lucky then that I still have this outlet to share the image…

Megan Williams
Megan Williams

An exercise in nostalgia

Meeting a friend for a drink in the Ramside Hall Hotel this afternoon, one of the topics we discussed was how as we grow older, roles reverse and the parents become the children that we must look after.  (I’m reminded of Peter Gabriel‘s introduction to Baby Man during his Still Growing Up tour at this point – is this neotony?)

I’m not sure where I lie on this scale, but the venue itself took me back to my childhood.

Considering her upbringing by the docks of the East End of Sunderland, my mother developed into a real snob during her lifetime, with a strong penchant for any outwardly visible displays of wealth; ostentatiously large diamond rings, couture mink coats, and Daimler cars.  This fixation extended to the garden, and when we moved from a very average semi-detached to a corner site bungalow with a commanding position on one of the main roads of the area, she had a blank canvas upon which to work.

The trouble was that those who have money do not necessarily possess the taste to go with it (now my snobbery makes its presence felt) and her “vision” for all of this space extended no further than having great swathes of lawn surrounding the property broken only by a large rockery area with impressive rocks and precious little planting.

Not any grass, sorry, turf  would do however.  It had to be sea-washed turf.

I have no idea where she got these fixations but it meant travelling miles to find just the right supplier.  Wherever we travelled in the country, if she spotted some particularly green and weed-free sward then it must be sea-washed, her horticultural nirvana.

My recollection is that we ended up buying from a supplier called Donald Ireland in Darras Hall (the area outside of Newcastle populated by lawyers, accountants, company directors and local football stars).  A quick google could find any trace of the name, so unless my memory fails me the business may have long since closed.  In contrast one of those places that fell foul of my mother’s demands still remains; A N Sanderson.

I remember this business because it had a magic ingredient.  The cottage home of Mr Sanderson was a thatched cottage that I can still picture in sixties kodacolor._MG_0434

Now to those who live elsewhere in the UK, a thatched cottage may be nothing special, there were certainly plenty about last year during my trip to Northants, but here in the North East you just don’t see them, and so placed alongside the main Sunderland/Durham road this was a pretty remarkable piece of PR.  _MG_0429-Edit-Edit


Everybody noticed it, everybody remarked upon it, and a sign by the roadside ensured that you knew who to associate it with.  _MG_0435

The business was founded almost 60 years ago, and for the last forty has specialised in supplying conifers.  Perhaps losing my mother’s business was just too much for them to continue supplying turf!  Those conifers are now used to screen the property from public view, the PR being left to word of mouth and internet I suspect.

I can understand the reasons for seeking a greater degree of privacy; they have always shared the site and entrance road with a small hotel.  A small hotel which over the years has grown larger, busier and now incorporates a golf course.  There is a lot more traffic, traffic which today included my friend, me and a bottle of prosecco, for though I’ve tried to give them a vintage feel, these pictures were all taken today.


Winds of change

I talk a lot about change during the training that I deliver.  The way that change is uncomfortable while we adjust to new circumstances, relationships, processes, and structures.  I’ve been the living embodiment of the model I use to describe how we react to feedback, experiencing denial, emotion and justification before reaching the acceptance that heralds readiness for change.  Having travelled that rough road I’m feeling healthier, more relaxed and generally better equipped for the world and the experiences that future has in store.  I’m rediscovering lost pleasures in music and photography; exploring new horizons (Not just Widnes & Bootle!).

I may move away from the sea that has been a constant companion of the last twenty years, but wherever I go I know that new inspiration awaits.

Until I do however, there is still material here.  After all no man steps in the same river twice as Heraclitus said expressing the fact that change is ubiquitous.  Substitute some salt water and the outcome is the same.  Brian Eno‘s Oblique Strategies, as well as containing his take on Heraclitus (Repetition is a form of change) today came up with

Once the search is begun, something will be found.

He’s right of course.  Today then I photographed some familiar subjects; those who ride the winds of change, but today I shared more of their excitement.  I wasn’t the only photographer seeking to do so it seems…

Both sides now

The mouth of the River Wear is a place of contrasts.  On the south bank; the docks and quays of the Port of Sunderland, a commercial port providing berthing, loading and repair services for a variety of vessels like this Japanese multi-purpose heavy-load transport ship Kurobe.

The north bank is a more relaxed place, home to a campus of the University, an Anglo-Saxon church, the National Glass Centre and the marina with its Marine Activities Centre.I love to stroll around here and enjoy the sights and sounds, though I am puzzled as to who owns the dozens of boats; trawlers, inflatables, yachts, canoes etc., that are moored here, because I only seem to ever see a very small number of them in use, by which I mean actually leaving the marina.  I’m sure some  are like floating garden sheds, a male drinking refuge, rather than actively functioning vessels.

Here there are always possibilities; abstract patterns of light and water waiting to be photographed.

Here art imitates life imitates art.

And alongside the boats?  (Apart from an anamorphically projected door carved out of a wall of rock)

Well what else would you expect to find here but a hairdresser and an aromatherapy studio – just what every seafarer needs!  The coffee shop does well too, especially on such a fine August morning.  I wonder if Fiona was headed there after walking her dog?

Joni Mitchell – Both Sides Now

Come inside, the show’s about to start

The roadside parking along the sea front has been claimed by mobile home owners claiming the best seats in the house in good time.

The static exhibits are already drawing attention.

There is plenty of junk to part tourists from their money.

Plans are in place.

The champagne is on ice…

…and the stage is set.

Everything is ready for the airshow to begin.  Well almost.  There were plenty of stall holders still readying themselves this afternoon, and whilst the event officially begins today, the actual flying doesn’t start until tomorrow so they had plenty of time.

One group of guys erecting an awning were vying for the opportunity to have their pictures taken, and whilst any of them would have been great portrait opportunities there was one that stood out; Manu.  (“Like the football team.” he explained).  His accent was Londoner, but there was more to it.  He explained that he was of Indian origins, which surprised me given his braided hair, but that he also had African heritage.  Manu was a good name then, as it means man in both cultures.And normally that would be it for today’s portrait, but a few yards further and I came upon Kristel (probably spelt wrongly) who also had strikingly braided hair.  It seemed strange to find this extraordinary beauty standing aimlessly by the roadside, but I couldn’t ignore her on the grounds of having already photographed Manu, so today you get two for the price of one!

Jimmy Cliff – Wonderful World, Beautiful People

No time to say hello goodbye

I’m rushed off my feet with the day job today, preparing a presentation that I’ll be sharing with a board of directors at the other side of the country tomorrow.  (I’m not the only one – the driftwood builders have been busy raising more totems to the sea gods!)

Early to bed to catch the red-eye in the morning and then home on a flight back into Newcastle sometime around 10.30pm.  Not a hope of writing an entry tomorrow (though I’ll get a picture at some point I’m sure) and today’s is pretty short and to the point!

I’m looking forward to the work tomorrow though – although the individuals are vastly experienced and influential I’ve been impressed by many of their qualities as I’ve spoken to them ahead of tomorrow’s meeting.  This morning I chatted to one of them, a man who was an exec director of one of our largest retailers and yet modesty, humility and integrity shone out of him.  A very different creature from those we often see portrayed in programmes like The Apprentice.

Today’s portrait was of a similar soul.  I met this man walking the waterline this morning and he greeted me cheerfully, but was quite bashful when it came to taking his picture, feeling that he didn’t look smart enough to have his picture taken.  (It’s the badge of honour amongst early morning beach inhabitants that you tend to comb your hair and smarten up after the morning walk!).

I think he said his name was Imtiaz, but couldn’t be sure over the noise of the sea, so asked him to spell it as confirmation.  His response was that I’d needn’t write about him too, almost as if he wasn’t worthy of comment.  I think his face says otherwise…