Perception Is Reality?

The volume of driving required for my job is made bearable by a combination of Radio 4 and the songs on my iPhone, and it was the latter that I turned to this week as I made my way to Bardon in Leicestershire.  Set to shuffle each new song is a surprise, but I was delighted when the swirling Hammond Organ signified John Martyn’s Changes Her Mind.  I pushed the volume higher to await the exquisite anguished growl that begins one of the lines of the chorus, a wail like the death cry of some mythical creature.  It didn’t come.  Had I missed it?  I flicked the back button to play the song a second time.  Still not there.  Great song but my memory of it was completely distorted.  I’m now wondering which of Martyn’s other songs I’ve managed to confuse with this one.

She just changes her mind like the wind
She thinks loving me is such a sin
I don’t know where to begin any more
She just changes her mind like the wind.

John Martyn

The following morning I awoke at some ungodly hour to the repeating lines of an ear worm.  Not Martyn surprisingly, but Cassandra Wilson‘s take on the Neil Young song Harvest Moon.

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

Neil Young

Why had that song woken me?  I knew not but resolved to remove it from my phone to prevent a recurrence.  Yet it was nowhere on the playlists.  I hadn’t heard it on the way down as I’d thought.  Even stranger that it should surface from my subconscious with the power to rouse me from the depths of sleep.

I recall that in earlier days, the phrase “Perception is reality” was often used to justify feedback, the thinking being that if someone else perceives you in a certain way, then regardless of your intention, that perception is how you really are in their eyes.  I understood the maxim, but never really questioned it, yet here was my brain pushing evidence to the contrary in my direction.

Perhaps it was a premonition of some description for on Friday I saw Paul McGee (SUMO guy) presenting his beach ball model showing just how opposing views of reality can be created.  His message though was not that you should blindly accept another’s view as more valid than yours, but that each should take the time to communicate their perspective to create a richer understanding of the overall picture.

Such esoteric thinking is all very well, but it didn’t really provide me with a plan for taking pictures… until I went back to John Martyn and decided that I should try to photograph the wind that he referred to.  Stuck with nothing more attractive than a pub car park to work with and very little light I didn’t have much chance of an interesting image though at least the clouds speeding through the sky on the stormy winds behaved as I’d expected them to.APW_6975-Edit

I wanted something more attractive though, so today ventured to the nearby Beamish Hall hoping that the options of landscape or architecture may provide a better contrast for the shifting skies.  I wasn’t quite so fortunate with the strength of the winds, but still captured enough to meet my needs.

Funny thing though.  Even Martyn’s perception is inaccurate.  Winds tend to come from a prevailing direction.  Not such a good metaphor for an indecisive woman then.  Unless you happen to be that woman.APW_7009_10_11-Edit

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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!




This is not an invitation to my alliterative best friend to display her martial arts, arm wrestling or pillow pugilism skills.  It is rather a memory from three decades ago.

Let me explain.

In the far off days when I was a young and naive banker, someone in Personnel made the decision that it would be good for my development and leadership skills if I were to attend an Outward Bound course, which would instantly transform me into a dynamic and assertive leader.  I hope they claimed a refund if that was there hope, but nevertheless the experience has stayed with me, and shaped the person I am now.  This was the first true adventure of my life, and without it I may not have pursued so many of the others that I have experienced since.  The three weeks of mountain skills, rock climbing, canoeing, fell running and so on weren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but they gave me a love of landscape and the outdoors that more recently has taken me to Asia and Africa as well as many more wet (and occasionally not so wet) days in England’s Lake District.

One of the many activities that I undertook for the first (and only time as it happens) was Orienteering.  There are checkpoint symbols dotted about the promenade near to where I live, but I have never seen anyone use them, so I don’t know how popular the sport is these days.  Has it been overtaken by geo-tagging?  Anyway, in our case the route we ran was to be nowhere near as flat or open as the Seaburn coast.  We were to race through a densely planted pine forest.

For the most part, this wasn’t a problem, with pathways and fire breaks to run along in search of the red and white markers that signified a control point, but often as we neared our objective we would realise from our maps that the actual objective was not on the road or footpath.  It was somewhere in between, requiring a plunge into stiff brush with the added bonus of sharp pine needles that pierced clothing from every angle.  Our instructor laughed uncharitably at our cuts and scratches as we completed the course, and asked how we had enjoyed pushing our way through these natural barriers.  The technical term for such terrain he told us was “fight”.  It must have seemed appropriate for I still remember it clearly over thirty years later.

I was reminded of it again today, though not because I was doing battle with pine trees.  The UK has been battered by wintry conditions that have brought heavy snow and disruption to much of the country, and whilst we on the North East coastline have escaped the whiteness, the cold and driving winds have made their presence felt here regardless.

It was as I parked the car ready to take some pictures that the term “fight” returned to mind.  Fighting to control the car door from being forced to angles that its hinges had never anticipated, fighting close the boot as the wind inverted the parcel shelf into a wedge that prevented closure, fighting to remain steady enough on my feet to keep an image in focus.  I failed at the first attempt, but this plant amply demonstrates the conditions I was facing, as did the grasses nearby.



On the beach I am accustomed to seeing the wave tops turned to spume by the power of the wind.  What I am not so used to it seeing it spread right up the beach by the forces at work.


Here the fight was to make progress against the forces of Euros and the fight to catch your breath as the wind whipped it away from you.  As I looked into the distance I could see great eruptions of white water and knew immediately that I must head that way for a shot that I have long wanted to capture; waves breaking over the Roker lighthouse.

When I got there I positioned myself on the bridge over Roker Ravine, both for shelter and the fact that its parapet was at perfect height to support my camera.  I was working with both teleconverter and zoom lens so wanted to be as steady as possible.

I focused on the lighthouse, and waited.

I recomposed the shot slightly.  And waited.

I fired off a few test shots.  And waited.

Though I was wearing my photography gloves which give snug protection but for a small circular hole in each thumb and forefinger which can be stretched to allow flesh access to controls, the heat conducting properties of camera and lens were chilling my fingers uncomfortably.

I changed my autofocus point.  And waited.

At no point did any wave reach the North pier with sufficient force to be thrust skywards and over the lighthouse.  There were a couple of minor attempts which made nice enough pictures, but nothing with the drama that I was seeking.

_MG_0481-Edit _MG_0478-Edit-Edit-Edit

Was the tide too far out to be deep enough?  Or too far out for waves to be forming at the right spot.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that at the South pier, where there is no lighthouse to provide a benchmark for height, all hell was breaking loose.  It must have been down to the angle of the wind but in the fight for the picture I wanted today I lost.

I did get a consolation prize though.



Postscript – 24th March


The following morning saw very similar conditions, still no waves over the lighthouse, but some drama nevertheless.  The wind had brought down a lamppost yesterday, and in a mood of caution the local council decided to fell another half dozen just to be cautious!

Cold as Hell?

_MG_0270A Swedish friend of mine recently “enjoyed” a weekend break in Mallorca, a welcome spell of winter warmth you might think, but no, she gave it the description above and not because of any limitation in her English-speaking skills.   There is of course a small town in Norway by this name near Trondheim, which I am sure in the winter gives truth to her simile.  The town capitalises upon this by selling postcards depicting “Hell frozen over” though it is still some 3 degree short of the Arctic Circle, though a similar line of latitude south of the equator does pass through parts of Antarctica and some rocky outposts whose ownership is disputed by Chile, Argentina, and of course Britain!

It is 30 years since we fought a war with Argentina over the ownership of the Falkland Islands, and tensions are rising once again.  There is a referendum being held on the islands on whether to remain British.  A bookmaker taking bets on the outcome hasn’t accepted a single wager on a the outcome being “no”.  For the islanders whose home this is the matter is clear-cut, but the rest of the world must wonder what all the fuss is about and of course there is more to it than a small population of people and sheep who would prefer to keep the union flag flying.  The possibility that there may be mineral resources in the South Atlantic means that everyone wants to have a stake in their eventual exploitation.  Once these parts of the world would have been seen as too difficult to access, but with commodity prices rising and extraction technologies developing the decision to pursue these options seems ever more likely.

As the worlds last remaining area that is relatively unaffected by human activity, it is worth protecting, particularly for the role it plays in weather patterns and the life-cycles of so many of earth’s inhabitants.  Consequently there are many treaties and protocols already in place seeking to control development in the region, but the existence of organisations like the Antarctic Ocean Alliance suggests that there is still more to be done.  I wish them well.

I have no pictures to share of Nordic or Antarctic origin (shame) but I did have a wry smile today as I listened to the BBC correspondent Caroline Wyatt reporting from the Falklands with the opening line “The wind blows ceaselessly in the Falklands…” .  At that point I was driving along the coast observing the wind roiled seas beside me and it seemed entirely appropriate that a group of islands lashed by wind and wave should be populated by those of British origin, for even on days like this we brave the elements to take our pictures or walk our dogs.

At least Stephanie was well prepared.



Hang on to your hat!

Early in the film Unfaithful, Diane Lane‘s character does battle with gale force winds in New York City. Whilst this fictional storm is as nothing compared to the impact of Hurricane Sandy, it is enough to cause Miss Lane some problems with her dress (shame!) and ultimately blow her quite literally into falling for Olivier Martinez which is where the trouble begins as she’s married to Richard Gere!

High winds hit Sunderland today so I made for the town centre which was once notorious for its wind tunnel effect, to see what drama may ensue This was never going to provide a Diane Lane type wardrobe malfunction, after all “tracky bottoms” are de rigueur for many of the population, but I thought there might be the odd lost hat or two!

In the end I grabbed a few candids of frustration and desperation, including one guy who seemed to feel the need to hold onto his hair, though he didn’t look much like Wayne Rooney.

Eventually I met John who had the perfect solution to the conditions. His head covering was neither hair nor fabric, yet it was completely weatherproof. It was ink!

Becalmed (part 1 of 2)

As is usual when I arrived at Whitburn this morning I scanned the beach for inspiration, and so having found none I continued south to Seaburn where the prospects were little better.

I briefly contented myself with some shots of the debris of a beach party held last night, and began to draw comparisons with a party I attended in my youth a little further along the coast.  Our party was centred around a large bonfire built from driftwood and any spare timber that those who planned the event could find, and at the end of the evening the rubbish was collected and binned.

This party seemed to have been centred around a burning office chair, as could be seen from the carcass left amongst the ashes and the melted plastic spread over the sands.  Nice.  I grabbed a few shots to illustrate my point and was leaving the beach when once of the council workers cleaning up showed me a picture on his phone of a sailing event at Roker and told me that it was continuing this morning.

I wasted no time in getting to the Blockyard which was already heavily forested with masts and sails – this was no ordinary yacht club event, this was one of the RYA Olympic Classes National Ranking Series 2012, a compulsory qualification event for young sailors on the Olympic development programme.

It was a beautiful morning so I took my time to shoot from a multitude of angles until the race began at 10.00.  Trouble was that it didn’t.  It was such a lovely morning that there was barely a whisper of a breeze, and certainly not enough to test the mettle of these young competitors.  Very soon the project became one of capturing candid shots of competitors trying to bide their time.

At 10.30 I had to leave, and there was still not a craft in the water.  I hope that changed later in the day.  Anyway I have a whole gallery of shots which I’ll share as part of tomorrow’s blog, but for now here’s Steven from the council to whom I must offer my thanks for telling me all about it.

How do you solve a problem like Maria?


The Airshow is over and the clean-up is underway, but not before I share my favourite image from those I took yesterday.  The Breitling wing-walkers may not share the speed of the Red Arrows, but the girls strapped to the top must love the wind in their hair!

Which brings me to today; still warm and sunny but a strong wind is blowing from the SW, a warm wind, but a strong one all the same.  But how do you photograph wind effectively?  Like the metaphors in the chorus of the song from the Sound of Music you can’t, for it is an invisible phenomenon.  All you can do is photograph its effects.

The most obvious method is to find a flag, or even a windsock, but unless you have lots of them in the shot, I personally think they lack impact.

There are kites of course, but this is only marginally less clichéd.Perhaps the sand swirling on the beach and the crests of wavelets dissolving into spray?

Now we’re making progress, how about an image that combines these effects with a lifeguard whose clothing has been moulded to him by the movement of the air?

(Yes ladies it will enlarge if you click the image!)

For me though the answer was to get down into the detail.  At first sight this look like nothing more than a piece of bladder-wrack that has been semi submerged by the drifting silica.  But look more closely (enlarge if you need to) and you can see the individual grains that are airborne around it.  What’s more some of those grains have blurred into tiny hyphens of light and shade – which is going some when the image was captured at 1/2000 of a second.  Now that proves there was some wind blowing!Today’s portrait subject had his hat firmly screwed down because it didn’t budge an inch in this turbulence.  His name is Raphael and he’s one of the kitchen team at Little Italy.

His English seemed to be no better than my Italian, but this was one occasion where grazie, prego and ciao seemed to do very nicely!