An Ill Wind

As I went cycling this morning I was acutely aware of how much things had changed since yesterday.  There was still some warmth in the air, but that air was moving much more rapidly.  As both bike and rider’s knees creaked their syncopated complaint at the effort they were called on to make I pedaled on into the headwind.  As I laboured along, my mood was not helped by the presumably Californian woman speaking occasional reminders of how much slower than my best pace for the same stretch I was.

The sky was heavily overcast too.  Was I going to get a soaking on this ride?

The wind had of course announced itself to me earlier in the day when I quickly walked part of the beach in search of images.  Today’s shoreline visitors had non of the leisurely approach of yesterday’s individuals.  Today you were there with a mission, and you weren’t going to hang about in this wind once it was fulfilled.  It was predominantly a day for dog walkers, and whilst their pets enjoyed the wide open space of a beach at low tide, the flying grains of sand forced their owners to keep their heads down.  There were some who benefited from these conditions of course.  As I arrived I could see one pale sail out at sea, but it was clearly going to be joined by others quite soon.

The wind surfer who stopped to provide me with a portrait was delighted.  He’s been waiting forever for these conditions.  Some were clearly enjoying themselves.


APW_0423-EditOthers maybe weren’t!APW_0425-Edit

As I completed turned to complete the loop of my bike ride the wind was now at my back.  The voice from Silicon Valley soon changed her tune then!




The Seventh Wave

Sting – Love Is The Seventh Wave

Hearing the weather forecast predicting high winds this morning my intention was to head for the coast in the hope of giant waves breaking over the pier, and more impressively, the lighthouse.  The tide was almost at its high point when I arrived, but there was no sign of monster waves, just more of the bright sunshine that challenged me yesterday.

Still the sun at least provided some backlighting for the spray that the wind was whipping off the wave tops.  This was one of those occasions, in contrast to yesterday, where I think it’s acceptable to have the highlights burn out to pure white as you can see on the left of these images.

Deciding not to go for a portrait in this harsh light I returned later in the afternoon as the sun was starting to set.  It was now at me back as I faced out to sea, giving perfect lighting for the white wave crests and breaking foam.

The sun’s position in the sky had another benefit; casting shadows that revealed the patterns on the sand created by other waves.

Yet it was something else caught by the light that please me most.  A large “cloud” of sea birds, too distant to identify but probably dippers like these, was wheeling about the sky.  Initially impressive for the black shapes they were throwing against the sky’s blue backdrop, as I raised the camera they turned again and the sun caught their pale underbellies in a flash of white.  Sadly their shape disintegrated at the same moment, but they still make a striking sight, like a multitude of stars (though I can’t spot any constellations).

Still no portrait, but as I walked up the shore I spotted a body-boarder retrieving a child’s football from the water, to the delight of his mother.  This was Thomas, still wet from his activity, and with that low sun I had no problem getting that detail into the shot.  (Click on it to enlarge and you’ll see what I mean!)

Same sh*t, different colour uniform…

…is how someone described the result of changing employers to me recently.  It seemed to sum up many people’s experience very nicely, and provided a parallel to my experience today.  For a change I headed north before hitting the sands, and strode out over the dunes at South Shields.

It had originally been my intention to try to find some nice leading lines from the rough fences that criss-cross the dunes, but on discovering that the fences were there for the protection of rare plant species the option to trudge amongst them was gone.

And so I reverted to type, walking the high water mark in search of interesting flotsam, chatting to kite surfers, and photographing anything that caught my eye, which was much the same as I usually shoot at Whitburn!

The two kite surfers were Mick and Mark, two brothers out celebrating the latter’s birthday with a bracing dose of sea spray.  If you enlarge the vertical shot with the kite at the top, you’ll see Mark horizontal in the breakers.  You certainly know how to party guys!


Post Mortem


One of the consequences of the heavy rain and stormy seas of the last two days is the amount of debris that has been cast upon the beach.  Driftwood of all sizes from tiny twiglets to tree trunks is scattered along the length of the high water mark, the occasional contrast provided only by some man-made addition to the detritus, or in this case an avian tragedy.  I’m used to seeing pheasants meet grisly fates upon our roads, but finding one on the sand is a first.

Nearer the sea there are further casualties as large section of the kelp forest, many still vainly clinging to the rocks they anchored to, have been torn from the sea bed and randomly thrown ashore where they lie semi-interred by the flow of watery silica returning to the waves.

And whilst the rains may be gone, their aftermath is not.  Streams that pass unnoticed across the beach have asserted their claim to broad swathes of shore; twisting and meandering into miniature deltas or diffusing into their neighbours to give a crystal sheen to the land underfoot.

All in all the place is a mess, but clearly not enough to deter the dog walkers who have returned to their usual haunt, including Elaine whose companion was determined to be in shot too.  Beyond her came the throng of angry bees as a group of four wet bikers raced along the coast to the best surf where they could entertain any passing photographer.  Whilst Seaburn is a blue flag beach I do wonder at the amount of effluent that has also been churned up by the recent violent currents.  I’d certainly have seconds thoughts if I was this chap!


Sun, sea, sand, and ……

I’ve photographed many of those who find exercise and recreation in the waters off Whitburn and Seaburn; the many board riders, propelled by sail, kite, paddle or wave, the kayakers and even the open water swimmers.  Consequently when I walked the beach today I wasn’t sure who or what I’d shoot.

The wind and waves were combining to give a constant stream of rolling breakers, but there were few taking advantage; most of those who braved the sea were of the run in and straight out again variety.

Still there were the occasional images that prompted me to raise the camera to my eye; a family with a shared love of sartorial millinery,

an old man keeping guard over the clothes while others paddled (well someone has to!)

and the inevitable evidence of the totem builders who try to build mysticism from driftwood!A little further along and I spotted a group on horseback, racing on the soft sands and then cooling their steeds in the shallows.  I remember shooting a horse on Whitburn beach a few years back and thinking it was a an unusual event.  Now they seem to be part of the fixtures and fittings, but I’ve not photographed them in the same way as I have other beach users.

As I neared the group there was one woman whose mount stood out to me as a particularly fine specimen, but I’m no equestrian.  Nevertheless I like the way its muscles are sculpted by the light.  As I said a fine specimen, contrasting with the mount of one of the other riders.  Bet the dog was worried!Today’s picture is of Sid whose aquiline features reminded me of a young Martin Landau.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d spoken to me with an American accent.  (He didn’t.)

Icons of design

I don’t know for certain how long I’ve had a Swiss Army Knife.  I do know that the one pictured here has been part of my life for the last 22 years, it’s predecessor having taken on the role of impromptu camera support for a self-portrait of Gill and I taken before the fountains of the Grande Arche at La Défense in Paris.  One the timer had finished beeping and the shutter clicked I retrieved the camera, but foolishly left behind the small red solution to getting the angle right.

Over the years I’ve been bicycle repair-man, photocopier paper-clearer, wine bottle-opener and the hero who saves the day whenever the cry goes up “anyone got a pair of scissors”.  An occasional sharpen and a drop of oil every so often is all it needs and it still functions as well as when I took it from its box 22 years ago.  Once upon a time I could honestly have said that I never go anywhere without it, but nowadays it would be frowned upon to be carrying an offensive weapon, particularly when working in the field of education, and of course it must travel in the hold when I take flight.

For well over a century, the Swiss Army has issued these handy items to their soldiers, the dimensions of the knives issued being precisely set to facilitate the reassembly of their rifles after cleaning.  It remains an essential part of their equipment.

I love mine; its size, weight, feel and look are all spot on, and for years it has answered the question of “What is that little pocket for in your 501’s?”.  It’s a design classic.

Another icon of European design (and one that is still manufactured today in Brazil) is the VW camper van, which although it has been with us only half as long as the Swiss Army Knife has still endured well beyond its original designer’s wildest dreams.  Loved by surfers they are a staple of any Cornish holiday scene, and have recently become very popular for transporting brides to and from their weddings.

The couple I met today had a Type 2 (the camper being VW’s second design after the “beetle”) and were in the supermarket car park.  They’d borrowed the van, and were having problems getting the rear hatch unlocked to put their shopping away.  This gave me the perfect chance to shoot Julie while her other half continued to struggle with the lock. 

Bet I could have got in with my Swiss Army Knife!

Shy bairns…*

Whilst out on Friday, I had a bit of role reversal; I was setting up my tripod to shoot some slow shutter shots of the sea lapping at the foot of the promenade steps, when a softly spoken Irishman approached me to request one or two of my pictures.

Wesley had no way of knowing what I was shooting, or whether I was in any way competent, but I think he probably made some assumptions from the equipment I was lugging about.

He explained that he was conducting a service at a residential home this weekend, and that whilst staying at Sunderland’s Marriott Hotel he had been lucky enough to see both a beautiful sunrise and the recent stormy seas.  He wanted to use these as a metaphor in the message he was to share about life and how beyond every storm the light will dawn.

Well on the day it was easy to provide him with some pictures of waves crashing against rocks and the sea wall, but I needed to dig through my archives to find some calmer waters.  Having recently corrupted my image database this proved harder than I would have wished, but nevertheless I found a couple of suitable options which I emailed to him.

Had I waited another 24 hours…

This morning the wind had dropped to the point where the shoreline flags were untroubled.  The tide was out, and whilst there were still rainclouds in the sky, the sun was breaking through above the mirrorlike surface of the Whitburn lagoon.  Although I shot some 70 or so images, there was only one picture that I had in mind and I got it here.

The trouble was that most of the people sharing the view with me were former subjects, so I was struggling for a portrait.  The lazy flap of a heron’s wings drew my attention away from the bay and back to my car where I met Neil who agreed to be photographed today.

He was strolling along the cliff tops with his Sunday paper, scanning the water but with probably less pleasure than me.  The calm that gave me my reflection was not so ideal for him.  He is a surfer.

*…get nowt!  (If you don’t ask, you don’t get)