My own cheerleader and the art of seeming grateful

As he waited for the results of the 1997 general election results, John Major, the famous part-time Lion Tamer, part timer Prime Minister rested his right hand on the cold white tiles of a Downing Street toilet wall and turned to his political advisor, sighing. “Bugger me Cecil, I mean, I like a cheerleader as much as the next man, but seriously, those lot downstairs are getting right on my tits. I mean, I’ll take compliments as long as Edwina’s got breath in her lungs, but honestly, give it a break”

Time and the Official Secrets Act have obscured the exact reasons for John’s rant, but it is known that at least 3 fifths of the Spice Girls were in attendance at No.10 that night. Whatever the causes and the reasons for the outburst, what is clear is that John was not happy with the attention he was getting and I have had cause to share some of his consternation recently. As I wandered around the back streets of the gloriously ill-considered backstreets of Manchester with my camera in tow, I spied a chap of limited growth and mobility standing in my path with a clutch of plastic carrier bags and and leather oven gloves on his hand. I can’t lie, I did consider turning around and avoiding him, but the nagging maternal voice in my head made me carry on ahead. Besides, it would have been a 20 minute detour to where I wanted to go and I couldn’t be bothered with the walk.

As I approached, a strange aroma, parts cat pee, stale sweat and unwashed underpants in equal measure assaulted my senses and his gaze latched on to my camera.

“Help an old gent across the street” he whispered scratchily to me. Before I’d had time to answer my inner conscience or leg it, the tiny, crooked man had latched a leather oven glove on to my arm with the force of an industrial clamp and we were off to the other side of the road and by the time we reached the other side 15 full minutes later, my opinion of my unwashed Yoda-man had changed. He may resemble a rubbish tip in stature and odour, but he was clearly a man of taste. And why was this I hear you ask? It’s simple really. All the way across, as the rest of Manchester looked on in bemusement, he noted several times that I was a good looking boy, kind and as I had a camera, obviously capable of taking brilliant photos that the world needed to see. He was clearly a man of hidden taste and discernment and I was reminded of this for a further two days by the lingering and powerful aroma that refused to leave the skin of my forearm.

Every road should have a cheerleader like this chap. doing the papers 2

There is a time and a place to smile….

As J R Hartley, the world renowned fish stalker espoused in his seminal Coarse Fishing tome; ‘Catching fish with needles and pins’, “Public Schools were developed by the Upper Class toffs to develop a strong sense of privilige and buggery in their boys. In essence, buggery maketh the boy and the man”. Mr Hartley was positioning his rather interesting approach to his world in the specific confines of a boys Changing Room, replete with steam, buckets of cheap aftershave and a slight sense of nauseated shame. Now whilst some may challenge a rather arcane view from JR, he does raise an point for consideration. What happens to those boys who become men who weren’t raised in such a fragrant atmosphere?

After a particularly warm and engaged gym session the other morning, I found myself facing Mr Hartley’s world-view as I began the slow descent in to undressing. From nowhere, the kindly man in shorts, wellies and pink rubber gloves smiled and sat down with a groan and a creak next to me. Nothing wrong as such, you might think, but as the elastic band of my boxers hugged at my knees and a strange breeze wafted over my nakedness, I felt a sudden sense of being untrained for such a circumstance. Yes, PE teachers from my schooldays used to watch us in the shower to “make sure that we’d washed properly”, but they never spoke to us about their Mother-in-law’s ointment needs, nor did they snap their pink rubber gloves at us. Also, their faces were never ever on the same height as my unfettered body.

As any good Englishman would, I smiled politely, lest I potentially offend him and quickly completed my shower nudity and scuttled towards the shower, my clenched buttocks ignoring his engaging story about a garden bench. I showered quickly and properly and then wrapped myself in a stranglehold towel. I returned to find the conversation still in full flow between himself, his position and stare unmoved. I nodded, made “listening” noises, and using the trick leant on a thousand freezing English beach holidays, managed to import my fresh boxers without removing the towel. Back in my levels of comfort, I confidently allowed the towel to drop to the ground and continued with my ablution. My neighbour orator stood and made to leave and I breathed an inwards sigh of relief that my ordeal was over. However, I breathed too soon as a head popped back in to the room and a familiarly recent voice simply said “nice boxers. Look like they keep you nice and snug, where did you get them from?”…….

if i ever lose my faith….

Man, in its multi-gendered vastness, has, since the dawn of 1996, had an inherent desire to find an increased inner-peace, a raised level of contemplation. Some find their solace in drink, some in inappropriate couplings with inanimate couplings and some in hanging baskets. Each must find their own, and preferably legal path.
I must confess to being a huge slice of “Johnny come lately” in this particular cake of spiritualism, much to my chagrin. However, as with most late-arrivists, my religious abandonment has been monumental, but monumentally fleeting.
What was my vehicle for finding peace with our collective cognitive consciousness? As with many other,  largely male, mammals, I became a devout devotee of “layingwoodenflooringism”. Shepherded by the monks in orange aprons in the great cathedrals of DIY, they spoke and I listened, particularly to their 50% discount offers. My souls saw how revolting my threadbare pink carpet was and I knew it needed succour. And lo, I did magic 20 packets of flooring, miles of beading, gallons of glue and power tools I did not need but which looked ace. B&Q be praised.
Like most converts I dived in head-first with little or no thought, talked to anybody who came near me about my faith and then, over the space of a weekend, converted my dining room and living room. My primal language screams released my demons, the rusty nails embedded in the floor spilt my blood graciously. Yes there were some glaring flaws and gaps, but isn’t this the case in all faiths?
Alas, my candle which burned brightly, but all too fleetingly is hugely extinguished and now I never want to lay another fucking wooden floor board as long as I live. I have lost my faith…….

Hulk, Mad

It’s all in the margins……

It is a little known fact that the medieval scholars translating ancient and magnificent tracts coi ed the phrase ” in the margins” as they made notes to themselves, literally in the margins of the page. What is less well known is that a great number of these comments were in fact insults to other monks and venerably bald men. These men of Christ regularly questioned the potency, the sexuality and the intelligence of their rivals. Archivists infact recently found one comment which simply read “Bede is an impotent arse” in a 9thcentury tome. Harsh and perhaps childish, but there in the margins.

However it is another such insult and piece of social commentary from ancient times which occurred to me as I travelled on the train this morning. Across a number of decorous and floridly translated tracts, an unknown hand has clearly scribbled complaints about globulous and oversized brethren sitting to close to him and almost suffocating him on their folds as they worked away in quiet and deliberate ignorance.

And such it was that I empathised with the perturbed Friar this morning on my way to work by the joys of the National Rail network. I am by no means somebody who rejects human contact, but I do have problems when people choose to sit on me when there are plenty of other seati g options available to them.

Feeling like a true Monday morning, I took my place on the edge of an empty bank of 4 seats and closed my eyes against an almost empty carriage. Moments later I was awoken by shuffling kicks to the ankles and buttocks to the face as something adjusted his luggage as he stood in front of me. An empty bank of 6 seats sat forlorn to my left. The rest of the carriage simply cried out for these ample cheeks to inhabit it, but no. The stumpy chap clutching his frayed, blue network rail holdall to his chest and avoiding eye contact was about to land. Slowly, but surely he shuffled next to the window and the space next to me, bent his knees, aimed his buttocks and the descended with the grace and accuracy of a wounded Hippo in cheap shoes. I was stuck, wedged in and losing the feeling in the right side of my body. Did he notice me? Of course he did, I essentially now part of him, but he chose to ignore this fact and begin reading his railway timetable.

What did I do, I hear you ask. There was only one thing I could do. I huffed, tutted, cursed his mothers fecundity, called him a vast array of gynaecological names in my head and shot him disapproving looks until he stood up and got off at the stop before mine. I am English after all, what choice did I have…..?

Climbing frog

When is too much, too much??

In her 1963 autobiography, Emmeline Pankhurst dealt, quite sensitively with the very real addiction of clutter and its impact on the wider world of the individual. In Emmeline’s case it was clutter of stuffed mammals and reptile’s covering each and every surface of her her Salford “2 up, 2 down” terraced house. It is a little known fact that the leader of the Suffragette movement was a Grade One Taxidermist and the first person and woman in Britain and all its Empire, licensed to stuff deceased politicians. As Emmeline takes the reader further and further in to her own descent into the deceased and the sawdust-stuffed, one message rings loud and true; “we each have to deal with our own addictions, face up to them and defeat them before the bodies of the toothy and clawed dead cover the walls and surfaces of our domesticity”

As history has shown, Emmeline was an inspiring woman for many reasons and I am no different to the millions who have followed her voice throughout the past years. However, there is one main different difference in my addiction. I don’t kill, stuff and mount my victims. No, my addiction is to shoot, lock away in frames and then hang them from my walls. My addiction is photographs and photograph frames.

I have moved house. I have moved in to my own house. I have many bare, blank and spare walls. I also have many, many, many photographs and an increasing volume of photograph frames in which to store my victims. What started out as a minimalist attempt at the odd cluster or two has descended and risen to an adoption of the Victorian virtue of “more is more is more is more.” I simply cannot have enough photos on my walls. I also simply cannot pass by a shop that sells photo frames. I cannot stop taking photos and my brain cannot stop imagining them up on my walls, somewhere in my new house, with my walls and my space. I have a problem and I need help, please help me.

My names is PDKimages and I am an addict……..

blue headed demon

When the hunter becomes the hunted

During the English Civil War, at the battle of the “Cusp of Arrival”, a bitter and bloody fight for survival between the puritanical Roundheads and the whorish Cavaliers, two generals surveyed the scene from the atop the Mornington Crescent Mount. With brows furrowed with woe and anxiety, General De Vere turned to General Leadbetter and sighed. “Have you seen that painting of me in the Hallway? I look truly terrible, I never take a good painting.” Quite how General Leadbetter replied was lost to the combination of time and a hail or ballshot piercing his head and stomach. However, the point is one that I think has echoed down the ages and has a good deal of personal resonance

Simply put, I do not take a good photo. This, you understand, is not from the perspective taking the photo myself, as in taking the shot, rather from the perspective of having my photo taken. I am not photogenic and will quite happily admit it. That is not to say I am as ugly as the inside of Jeremy Clarkson’s thought process, rather the camera does not like me. In existence there are possibly a handful or so photos that do not make me wish to banish them to Hades, or indeed, the inside of Jeremy Clarkson’s thought process. I should legally be put behind the camera, not in front of it and this suits me just fine.

I am more than happy to snap away at other people ’til the Badgers come home. I am relaxed about taking a photographic likeness of other people whether they are aware of it or not (just to clarify for legal reasons, there is nothing sinister or untoward about this). That is my environment, that is my position of safety. I am content to look out at the world and try to capture its idiosyncrasies in all their  multifarious glory, good sides and bad.  So it was this past week, that the tables were turned upon me.

There I was, quietly sat upon my settee, watching the world go by, contemplating my navel and the navel of another, when I became the hunted. First off, a mother Ewe and two lambs lined up to stare at my through my open front door for a good 40 seconds as I ate my breakfast. Secondly, as I watched the sun set on a glorious May evening a flock of young, black clad, Orthodox Jewish boys stopped outside my window and watched me watching television in my boxer shorts before noisily moving on their way. Karma was getting its own back on me, though perhaps the sight of me in my boxers watching television with a bottle of beer in my hand was just as disturbing for them…….

face behind the branches

Look like you’re doing something proper

It is a little known fact that Orson Welles, film and media giant of a bygone age used to have a fetish for spying on other children’s model train sets as a child. He would stand outside their houses, basking in the sulphurous yellow glow from the windows, face pressed against the glass like a lump of SPAM, just to get a glimpse of the looping, wizzing blur of the miniature locomotives designed for people with special emotional requirements. That is, he used to do this until the long arm of his house keeper, Clive Belltop, collared him, caught him red faced and red-handed. It was here that young Orson learned a valuable lesson that would stand him in good stead for the rest of his life. Looking down at him from a top his 7ft 6 inch beanpole frame, Clive simply said; “If you’re going to do something, for fuck’s sake at least look like you’re doing something proper, otherwise people will just think you’re weird”.

This very phrase sprang to mind last week as I stood by the side of the road, camera in hand, looking for all the world as though I was staring in to the distance at absolutely nothing and then randomly jabbing my camera towards unseen nothings and dancing a strange and impish jig to get a better angle of absolutely nothing. I could see the confusion and the concern flashing past me in the eyes of the drivers who flashed past me, having seen me jigging, pointing and staring from a a distance of at least 400 yards. It was the shaking of the passing heads that hurt the most.

In my defence, I may have been jigging about, but I was doing it for a reason and I was not pointing randomly and staring at nothing. I was trying, largely in vain, to photograph Lapwings as they skitted around the ground like nodding donkeys and danced through the air like drunken acrobats. I had a legitimate reason for looking and acting as I did, honest! The only cause for concern I will admit to in this whole affair was whether or not it is wrong to photograph Lapwings as they mate. When does it cross over from wildlife photography to something else?………

lapwing in flight 8 bw

When photographs attack – there were just so many of them, I didn’t stand a chance

My nerves were jangling like a duck walking on a hot plate, my palms were as sweaty and clammy as a British 1970’s TV presenter or DJ as he opened up this morning’s newspaper and my heart was racing at the speed of a lapsed drinker at opening time. I was a mess, I was a wreck and I was 11,000 feet above the earth. And so, I sough solace in the good book and as I leafed through its pages of majesty, wisdom and splendour, I felt becalmed. I was of course reading the in-flight food, beverage and gift items catalogue on my EastyJet flight, packed to the gills with untold opportunities to feel better by simply not buying anything that allowed you remain sober. I was also having my Nice come-down. A million and one thoughts raced through my head as we sped through the vast skies above France; would my car work when I got back to Liverpool, would my cat have left any of my furniture unshredded, had I fulfilled my photographic brief from www.pebblesproperties.com, or had I simply pranced away a weekend in Nice pointing my camera at nice things and odd people that didn’t make sense?

The doubts continued when I arrived home. I opened my laptop and looked at the file containing my photos, all 1574 of them. They looked back at me, taunting me, goading me with their sheer volume and numbers. How on earth could I possibly review and edit that many photos without going the way of so many prematurely psychotic and deranged photographers with permanently damaged eye sight before me?

Nine hours on the first day, 6 on the second all the while I chipped away with no real progress. Hours turned in to days, days turned in to weeks, or at least so it felt as my brain slowly turned to putty and my eyes began to seize up like two rusted ping-pong balls welded in to my sockets. I couldn’t see straight and I’m pretty sure that after a while I had developed the ability to see the long since dead former inhabitants of my cottage. I had neglected my family, ignored my friends I had not eaten in days, but then, almost without knowing I had finished, I had reviewed and edited my entire collection from Nice. I had done it.

Now, with some time having elapsed, I can see the funny side of it. I may have possibly, perhaps permanently damaged my eyes, I made contact with the dead and my cat has a pathalogical hatred of my camera as well as my laptop, but it was worth it. I had won. Plus, I’d got some really cool photos of some fantastic looking people in Nice (as well as the proper ones I should have been taking…..)

doing the papers 2

Nice day for it – Day 2. Stalking

Some people may say that taking photographs of beautiful buildings, in a beautiful city full of mostly beautiful people could be nothing but sheer fun, frolicks and the occasional bout of drinking fine wines. These people would not be incorrect, nor would they be wrong or way off the mark, but they would not be entirely correct.

As Ronald Reagan once said whilst addressing Maggie Thatcher over a post coital woodbine and half of mild, “the weather can’t half balls things up love.” Ronnie was not wrong. Addled as he may have been by Maggie’s beauty and masculine charms, his word held a great deal of resonance. And such it was that I peered out of my bedroom window on my second day in Nice. The sky held all the charm of a Friday night out in Runcorn and allure of a kick in the nuts from an irate Hare. It was dark, it was overcast and it was gloomy. As with Saturday, nice was not supposed to be like this. To complete my assignment for www.pebblesproperties.com, the weather really needed to be my chum, but it had seemingly take its ball home.

The key to the Cote D’Azur is in its title, i.e. the Azure element of the place. Be that the sea or sky, it is helpful to have some element of Azure in your photos. Glorious buildings will always be glorious buildings, but sun is what makes people spend needlessly and strip of layers of clothing, regardless of what the wider world things of the results. The sun was not happening. Rain was happening, gloom was happening, a chill wind was happening, but no sun.

So, I hear you say, how do you overcome this slight impediment? How do you find something to do other than drink coffee, snipe about the strange elderly ladies dressed like their dogs and ingest beer? I am glad to tell you that I found a simple answer, I stalked people. I have to clarify that this was not menacing, insidious or illegal, at least not to any extent that I am aware of. I found people who looked interesting, largely half crazed or those who had patently lived a life that was now etched on their features. Once I had found them, I pretended to take photos of the interesting plants next to them and then, whilst they weren’t looking, snapped away until they turned back to face me.

It worked, apart from the Swiss Chard, Olive and Red pepper ice cream I shared, the three beers, the two coffees and the platter Nicoise, I managed to take the better part of 600 photos of fascinating looking people and more church spires. Not such a bad day after all…….

doing the papers

Nice day for it – day 1

I learn something about the world every time I fly with Easyjet and my time spent in their loving, bosomy embrace yesterday was no exception. I learnt that it is possible to actually make people believe they are moving closer to their destination, simply by sporadically rearranging them in the orange hemmed waiting pen. I learnt that it is possible to make people pay extra money, simply to stand slightly to the left and ahead of others and call it a priority boarding system. I learnt that if you can here a man moaning that is he isn’t used to queing as it isn’t “something that generally happens” to him, he will look exactly as you think he would (their priority boarding system (cream trousers, cream jacket, cream fedora, neck and head that resembles that of a dyspeptic turkey). I also learnt that British men will never be truly European until they have mastered the art of wearing any of the following coloured trousers; red, pink, green, aqua, sky blue. We simply can’t do it and get away without looking like they have been dressed by their Nanny.

Flying with Easyjet is pretty much akin to a sociology lesson at 11,000 feet! But, they did kindly fly me to Nice, which was very good of them considering I had paid for the privilege. And so, as my no.99 bus pulled away from the terminal I was back in Nice and in to a world as far away from the industrially scarred banks of the Mersey Estuary abutting Liverpool Airport as it is possible to get. I was back in a world where if you drive a Maserati it is perfectly legal to park on the pavement and across a school crossing. I was back in a world where the joggers are manicured before setting designer clad feet out of the door, where the drinks are painfully expensive, but as soon as you clap eyes on the Azure blue sea, the rest of the planet can go hang its head in shame.

My trip, gloriously sponsored by www.pebblesproperties.com, was to photograph Nice in all its glory, to find images of the city that sell it to those lucky or wily enough to be able to spend lavishly. Based in the Musiciens area, I am spoiled for choice. Glorious architecture, 10 minutes from the Promenade Des Anglais and 15 minutes from the old town. I can feel the sympathy oozing out of every virtual pore as you read this, but trust me, I am willing to suffer for my art.

But, and this is something I never thought I would ever write, there is just one fly in the espresso, one hairy caterpillar in my salade Nicoise, the weather. The weather as I left the battered and scarred slurry of the Liverpool estuary was better than in Nice. Surely that should not be allowed?

pink and purple 3 word

Looking at the world with a different lens and smiling, generally anyway………