Fireflies and Serenity*

If you were watching the Jubilee concert yesterday, you will have seen that at the culmination of the evening, HRH took a large crystal, shaped inevitably like a diamond, and like an octogenarian Bond villain, inserted into a podium where it spiralled downwards to active her weapon of world domination.  In reality it was a particularly ostentatious means of lighting a flaming beacon, the final flame in a chain of over four thousand that had travelled around the globe.

In Sunderland there was an attempt to echo the events of the Mall; the cliff tops at Roker played host to a day of entertainment before culminating in the ignition of their beacon and a fireworks display, which though impressive paled into insignificance when compared to the pyrotechnics playing out over Buckingham Palace.

Here in Whitburn, things were more restrained.  Another beacon was lit, witnessed by a car park full of interested parties, and accompanied by a lone bagpiper.  In yesterday’s breeze the basket was soon ablaze, providing an opportunity to create some interesting worm-like spark trails with a timed exposure.  The ferocity of the flame soon consumed the fuel and the event was over after I’d managed to capture no more than a dozen frames or so.

After the Thames Pageant on Saturday, and the concert yesterday, today seemed quiet by comparison.  Taking my daughter Holly to work we were delayed in an unlikely fashion.  A skittish horse was at the traffic lights,  and was frisky enough to cause the taxi driver following to maintain a generous distance.  So generous in fact that his vehicle wasn’t close enough to trigger a change in the lights, so we waited in vain for a green light.  Eventually he seemed to understand the problem, and negotiated with the rider to give him a clear berth as he drew alongside her.

When I reached my favourite stretch of beach it was calm and deserted, but for one solitary dog walker in the distance, and a group of boat thieves who seemed unable to get the vessel moving. 

Hearing a noise behind me I thought I might be in luck, but it was the unpredictable equine once more.  I wasn’t getting too close with my camera, and watching horse and rider progress along the water line I was happy with my decision.  Even the tiny waves in the breaking surf were startling the beast, though they were no more than a few inches high.

Returning to my car and I found a man sitting on the fence alongside it.  From a cast list of only one, he had to be my subject for today, which sounds a bit like desperation but not a bit of it.  I really like the resulting picture.  Thanks Ken.

*Must have been having a Joss Whedon moment!

Behind the curtain.

Over the two events I attended at the weekend I shot hundreds of images, and my poor image processing software has been working its algorithms to the bone ever since, so how do I take a break from all of that?  Go out and take some more pictures of course!  (Software has since taken its revenge by refusing to import any more images to the 30k or so already in the catalogue!)

The celebrations are continuing, and ahead of the lighting of flaming beacons around our coasts tonight, there has been plenty to keep people occupied.

Of course whenever there’s a public event going on, you’ll tend to find a face painter, and as I travelled along the cliff tops today I passed several young girls adorned as butterflies, which prompted me to think about masks, for after all isn’t that what has been created by a few layers of paint.

The August 1992 Vanity Fair nude Demi's Birthd...

We tend to think of masks as something that is worn on the face, though that isn’t technically necessary; there are instances of finger masks and full body masks in other cultures.  Body-painting is growing in popularity; remember Demi Moore‘s Vanity Fair cover?

Both of the events I’ve photographed at the weekend have included masks – one at a wedding where the Best Man (who was female) tried to tempt the new bride with a mask of Gary Barlow, and the other when a royal visitor dropped into the village jubilee celebrations yesterday.

In each of these cases the mask was worn to become somebody else, but what of the reverse?  Many masks are worn not so much as to adopt a persona as to hide our own.  These masks have no need of wood, metal, leather or paint.  They are the expressions we wear when trying to conceal our true feelings.

When this man decided to risk running the gauntlet of the crashing waves he wore an air of nonchalance for the benefit of the small boy with him.

Seconds later the mask slipped and they had a rethink!

This man also sported that nonchalant expression, which he desperately tried to maintain even when he should have been sharing his embarrassment.

This batsman was living on borrowed time, having narrowly escaped a run out and an lbw decision in the few balls that I was watching.  Did he convince the bowler of his confidence?  I doubt it.

What of the portraits that I’ve taken in the last 5 months or so?  What were those individuals trying to hide or convey?

One of the racial stereotypes associated with the Chinese is that of “inscrutability”, and unlike many epithets applied to those of other races there is some basis for the term, albeit arising from cultural misunderstanding.  There is a Confucian tradition of remaining expressionless when speaking to strangers so as to treat them seriously and give balanced thought to what they are saying.

I’ve rarely experienced this with the Chinese students I’ve worked with, they always seem to be easily excited, but today I met San Ho.  When asked for a picture he remained silent for a while before agreeing, and repeated the same process when I asked for his name.  Of course it may have been nothing more than a language barrier.

Fly the flag!

Unless you’ve been in the farthest reaches of the Hindu Kush recently, you can’t help but have noticed that apart from the hullabaloo about the impending Olympics, the country is having “a bit of do” to celebrate Queen Liz having been on the throne for the last 60 years.

Despite our British Reserve, this is one of those occasions when, with a lot of encouragement from the supermarkets, we hoist the flag and string out the bunting as if it’s V.E. Day once again.

On a stretch of coastline like ours however, flags are a common sight.  There are flags that promote the fact that our sea water and beaches reach cleanliness standards, flags that show that our beaches are well managed (though not last weekend!) and flags that show where it is safe to swim and where to use motorised offshore craft.

Whilst the award flags fly all year until the coastal winds and salt spray disintegrate them, the flags that provide guidance appear at the beginning of June and are placed on the beach every day for the next three months.  Between the red and yellow flags (where it is safe to swim) the areas is patrolled by those responsible for their deployment.  The lifeguards.  The flag above their observation point denotes their origin – they are seasonal employees of the RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

I’ve always been familiar with the work of the RNLI (they’ve existed for best part of 200 years) both through growing up on the coast and being fascinated with the different vessels and launch methods they have adopted, and through the regular appeals that Blue Peter made over the years.  (It also helps that the first ever purpose-built lifeboat is still on display just up the road in South Shields.)  The RNLI are a charity, and for all they are seen as an essential element in saving lives around our shores, they would not exist without public donations, and the efforts of volunteers.

About ten years ago now they extended their operations beyond the famous orange lifeboats that they are associated with, and began to provide Lifeguard services initially on the surfing beaches of the South West, but this has rapidly grown to over 160 units spread around the country.  Last year the lifeguards alone saved more than 100 lives and went to the assistance of over 18,000 people.

So today being the first of June, the lifeguards are on patrol.  They’ve spent the last month honing their first aid and life saving skills and they’re ready for action.  Like their “Baywatch” equivalents they dress predominantly in red, but there the similarity stops.  Even at the height of summer, the North Sea is pretty cool, so rather than the Pamela Anderson swimsuit…

I met Thomas when I was out today – he was even sweeping sand off the promenade – what a public-spirited individual.  I’ve never needed his services or those of his colleagues, but I’m really glad they’re there, so if you have a pound or two left over after toasting Her Majesty this weekend, I know of a good cause.