An old sea dog (Venezia 3)

There’ll be a great many inanimate objects vying for inclusion in this project; windows, door knobs, statuary, metalwork and more, but plenty of the living too, not all of them human.

I don’t know why, but among the narrow alleys that criss-cross the canals I was always surprised to see dogs.  They’re present though.Venezia-2



Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes*

When I was small the 5th of November was one of the most important dates on the calendar; Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night.

For weeks beforehand, young boys would tour the streets looking for any spare timber that could be used to build a bonfire, and stuffing old clothes to make a “Guy”, which would then be wheeled around the streets or left outside shops with a collecting tin.

“Penny for the Guy” went up the cry, and any pennies collected would be used to buy the magic ingredient of the evening.  Fireworks.  Almost every child had a display in their gardens; some no more than a few rockets and Roman candles, others having a more elaborate celebration with food including potatoes roast in the embers of the fire.

Nowadays the date is more significant to me as being my daughter Holly’s birthday, (don’t be fooled by the candles, she’s older than 7!) but it seems that I’m not the only one with different priorities.  Halloween, which was once the lesser event (carrying hollowed out Swede in the rain, and struggling to relight the temperamental candle inside without burning your fingers had a limited appeal) has now overshadowed a date celebrated to mark an important moment in British history.

Halloween is more of a marketing man’s dream, and I wonder how long it will be before that name (meaning the eve of All Saints’ Day) becomes replaced by Trick or Treat night.

Walking the beach the day after there were still some traces of Guy Fawkes celebrations; the scattered crocodilian timbers that evidenced a bonfire erased by the tide and the occasional carcass of a spent rocket, but these were few and far between and easily missed (unlike the smart windsurfing board abandoned at the water’s edge) Perhaps the two dates will merge into one at some point and we will celebrate at the end of October with fireworks as well as costumes.

Similarly I read this week that a breed of dog once familiar to all thanks to its role as the icon of a well-known paint brand has been placed on a watch list due to the decline in the numbers being bred.  I refer to the Old English Sheepdog (the “Dulux” dog) which it appears is seen as too much trouble to look after compared to “handbag” dogs like the Chihuahua.

So it was nice to meet a man out today walking two of these shaggy beasts.  Getting them both to remain still for a picture was too much to ask, but I grabbed a couple of shots of one of the pair as well as their owner John.  It was great to see these “real” dogs out exercising.  I hope they fare better than Mr Fawkes.

*David Bowie – Changes

Look out Tank Girl!

I’ve spent the whole day training others to deliver presentations, part of which required me to listen to short presentations by each of the delegates on a topic of their choosing.  The subjects were certainly varied; learning to play a keyboard, the seven wastes, scuba diving at the Farne Islands and the Movember moustache challenge among them, but by far the most intriguing title, and as it turned out the most entertaining presentation was Panzer Mice!

In this we were treated to the story of how a brilliant wartime manoeuvre saw the Russians parachuting crates of mice over German lines, so that the highly trained plucky rodents would seek out the innards of Panzer tanks, nibble through cables and halt the German armoured advance towards Moscow.  This lead to the deployment of cats as an SS countermeasure, only to be thwarted when subsequent Russian crates contained dogs in an escalation of this mammalian arms race.

Of course the story is a fiction, but it does have basis in fact for the 22nd Panzer Division was indeed halted by the intervention of mice, but mice inadvertently introduced by the Germans themselves after straw used in the insulation of the tanks against frost, proved an attractive nesting spot for the rodents.

In confessing to his subterfuge, the presenter did speculate as to whether this story had inspired the American development of incendiary bats for use against Japan.  This time the story is true as you will see if you follow this link.

Anyway, all this entertainment meant that I was late getting home, and although the skies were already darkening I was without a portrait for today.  A quick trip to the beach and I thought I had my subject, but he scuppered my plans by wading away from me into the sea!

Luckily I met Natalie shortly afterwards, and although the light meant that her portrait is not as sharp as I would have liked, there is enough light in her eyes to produce a pleasing picture I think.  Her dog was kind enough to pose too.

By the time I got home again the light had gone completely.  Must be better prepared tomorrow!.




Early Riser

Lost on a wave that you’re dreaming
Dream on on to the heart of the sunrise*

Every day this week my drive to work has been accompanied by the sort of colourful skies that bring dismay to shepherds and sailors but delight to photographers.  Unless the they don’t have time to stop and exploit the opportunity.

Friday brought a day off however, so having planned to greet the sunrise from the beach of Marsden Bay I checked the tide tables and committed to an early alarm, which is how I found myself negotiating the steps down to the beach by head-torch before sunrise.

Today was the day that the conditions changed of course.  I could see that the skies were virtually clear so nothing above me to catch the subtle pinks and reds of the dawn.  It was a different story on the horizon however, for out to sea was a thick bank of cloud that would smother Ra‘s efforts until the colour of his rays had whitened significantly.

Nevertheless it was a privilege to have the beach to myself with an accompanying symphony of bird calls, the crump of crashing waves and the rattle of pebbles dragged back by the receding waters.  I didn’t get what I came for, but was able to take my time and find some shots that pleased me.

I didn’t expect to get a portrait this morning, but as I took a last few shots from the cliff top I was approached cautiously by an inquisitive dog whose owner was a few yards behind.  There aren’t many women who would be willing to be photographed at about 7.15am I don’t suppose, but I’m glad Lesley was agreeable.  She had great amber eyes that were just made to capture that early morning light, although she did say that she doesn’t normally like getting her picture taken.  This shot might be a little closer than she anticipated but I had to give those eyes a chance to sparkle.  Thanks Lesley.


*Yes – Heart Of The Sunrise



These are the days


A big day today for thousands; the day of the Great North Run.  What better opportunity to get some interesting shots of athletes and spectators?  Except that I’m photographing a Baptism today so it isn’t going to happen.

The runners will welcome the overcast skies that have given the day a cooler feel than yesterday.  If they’re lucky a refreshing shower or two may provide further temperature control.

In Whitburn I suspect it will be a quieter day at the crustacean celebration that is the Latimer’s Lobster Fest.  The passing trade will be passing on their way along the coast to the finishing straight of the run on Marsden Leas.  There will be fewer strollers out enjoying the sunshine too.





For me though, these are the conditions that I love on a morning visit to the bay.  The rising sun’s crepuscular rays develop a greater range of colours in the sky, and then are scattered further by the wet sand’s desire to be a mirror to the details above.

There is a lot of bad HDR photography out there, that embraces the extreme look it can produce for it’s own sake, but a day like today can tempt me to go down that route too. 

There is always a sense of serenity on mornings like this, the sea too far away to impose it’s voice on your thoughts, and the soft diffuse light envelops all in its embrace.

And in this environment I am the exception.  Everyone I see has a canine companion, whilst I have only my Canon companion.  Suits me fine.

One of those enjoying introducing his Springer Spaniel to the sea for the first time was Ron.  His dog loved the experience.  I hope he feels the same way about this picture.

The Blue Nile – The Days Of Our Lives


And did those feet…

I read with interest this week that Wales lags only slightly behind the USA in terms of the levels of obesity in the population, and at first assumed that the rest of the UK must therefore be in a similar predicament, but discovered that in England at least the NHS is prepared to intervene sooner when someone’s health is at risk.

Nevertheless those of us in the West grow ever fatter, despite fears that the growing world population may soon be unable to feed itself.  It will be interesting to see what happens as the trend for those in Chinese and India, with the economic whip hand, to eat more of a western diet.  As demand grows and prices increase we may be unable to afford to eat as we do now.

Perhaps that won’t be such a bad thing, given the growing levels of heart disease and diabetes.  In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells predicted a future were mankind developed into two populations, the slender and beautiful Eloi and the brutal subterranean Morlocks, who preyed on the Eloi for food.  I don’t think he got it quite right.

When I first arrived on the beach this morning there were few people at the north end of the bay, so I contented myself with the seascape to begin with, though the further south I walked the more people I encountered.  All were exercising in some way.

Out to sea a lone canoeist paddled rhythmically through the twinkling waters, whilst on land there were lots of walkers, runners and cross-trainers.  Our population seems to be diversifying into the fat and the fit, and that being the case, I don’t see the latter falling prey to the former.  They’ll struggle to catch them!

Among the dog walkers was Neil, who was out with his large boxer.  Neil was lean and wiry, but his dog seemed glad of the rest as we took Neil’s photograph.  Only the promise of an ice cream at the end of the walk got him moving again.  The dichotomy encapsulated!


After the highs of the three athletics golds in the Olympic stadium last night, it was a much calmer world this morning.  Parking on the cliff tops I could see that the water was even calmer and hazier than it had been yesterday, but there was no blue in the sky to brighten it.

There was also a man throwing stones into the sea for his dog to chase, so I felt it likely that there was someone to photograph.

I began at the water’s edge continuing my obsession with the small rowing boats moored within the lagoon.   I shot dozens of images, changing the exposure to give the opportunity to process some as HDR  pictures, and taking advantage of passing birds that might have given the image more interest.  The water is calm enough for good reflections, but with enough movement to scatter that reflection into a longer pattern like a shadow at sunrise.

Eventually I turned my attention to the man and his dog, and was surprised to find that he was a former colleague with whom I worked over twenty years ago.  We were part of a group who took the mickey out of each other through insults, practical jokes, and ridicule.  I remember adopting an exaggerated voice, not unlike Monty Python’s TF Gumby when trying to impersonate him and quoting his reaction to any food that was remotely exotic.  “I’m not eating that, it’s slop!”  It was probably nothing like him.

Declining my request for a photograph on the grounds that he was old, decrepit and lived in, he offered his dog as a substitute, but wet labradoodles aren’t my stock in trade, so we continued talking.  His Spanish holiday was too hot for his pale skinned family.  A woman had warned him to keep his dog out of the water because of sharks (a seven-foot porbeagle was landed up the coast and sold out in hours at Latimer’s Fish Deli behind us).  His 11-year-old daughter had attitude.

As I bade him farewell he spotted a blonde woman heading onto the beach.  “I’d much rather photograph her than someone like me” he said.  And so I did.

This is Beverley, (a name that also resonates with that same group of co-workers), out walking her dogs.  She was far more co-operative, so I photographed her dog too.

Think I got the definitive boat shot; this one’s going to canvas.