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Monday, 22 October 2012

Some thoughts on being English

We are a very forgiving people, the English. Battered by the worst summer in a lifetime, invaded by giant slugs, beset by economic woes of apocalyptic proportions, and saddled with a football team incapable of understanding that the game is a showcase for skill and endeavour, is actually meant to be enjoyed, (the clue is in the word ‘game’) we surely have every excuse to wear long faces and don sackcloth and ashes from time to time.

And yet… and yet. Give us a few hours’ sunshine on the last weekend before the changing of the clocks ushers in another dismal winter and we are persuaded that all is well with the world. Mind you, A. & I we were among the lucky ones yesterday. While we enjoyed eight or nine hours of sunshine in Wharfedale, the people of Leeds (barely 20 miles away), York (40) and London (200) had barely an hour between them. They had what we call seasonal weather. Fog.

I want to say something more about being English, and to help me I’m afraid I have to post this rather sorry example of my inadequacies as a photographer - although it was a genuine snap: I barely broke stride as I whipped out the camera and fired it off.

This is the footpath I often take, a pleasant short-cut that eliminates about half a mile of walking alongside busy roads. I’m not sure that you’d see this sort of thing in many other countries. It’s a large field crossed by a public right-of-way. It must date back at least to the mid-nineteenth century, when the mining industry was being developed around here. It may, of course, have been there in the Middle Ages. I don’t know. The point, however, is this: that every year - usually in autumn - the farmer who owns the field ploughs up the path and sows his crop. Last year winter barley, this year rape. And every year, within days, fresh footprints appear. At first a scattering, then a more concerted series of wavering lines until, finally, a well-trodden path is re-established. Every time the path is ploughed up I am enraged - to the point, almost, of calling Durham County Council’s Rights of Way department. But always, as the will of the people re-establishes the path I find myself shelving the project and smiling quietly. Perhaps we all relish the contest.

I mentioned Wharfedale. We were up there on a one-day photographic course with John Potter ( I learned a lot about photographic technique. I also learned that my equipment is inadequate. My crummy old digitals don’t really allow me to make all the adjustments - of aperture, focus and exposure - that a dedicated SLR camera offers. And I need a decent tripod. I also realised that while we were lining up the best possible shots of a village like Burnsall…

… I kept getting distracted by the sort of thing that always catches my attention, like  the way the light falls on the trunk of a beech-tree at this time of year:

I came away from an intensive day feeling that I’d learned a lot about technique - which, I am sure, will lead me to take better photos. I’d discovered aspects of my camera that I’d never previously explored. I’d also been shown a door that leads into another, far more complex world in which the requirements are: first, some excellent, but expensive equipment; second, an understanding that taking the picture is only the start of producing the final image. Once you get home you will go into Photo Shop and spend a lot more time enhancing your shot to within an inch of its life. It’s a wonderfully clever and enabling procedure. I’m not sure that I will have the required patience and application.

Well, Monday. And before I even start on memories of my days as the sole proprietor of Clear Day Windows, Inc of Albuquerque, New Mexico, I have already fielded the first call of the day: Mike Pannett, announcing that I should get the first tape about his experiences as a London copper on Wednesday.

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