Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Open Window

"It's a bit stuffy in here. I'll open the window a bit."





"What's wrong?"

"The window won't go back up. The switch is jammed down and I can't pull it up without risking it breaking!"

We're parked overlooking the harbour in the tiny village of Dunure on the Ayrshire coast.

It 's raining.

My car is nearly 11 years old, has about 135,000 miles on the clock, and has reached that point where various bits are wearing out. I'd had to get the brakes overhauled before my recent trip to Devon; I'm getting vibrations at high speeds; and I've become aware of a rumbling-whining noise over the past week or so which I suspect is something to do with the bearings.

Not that I know much about cars, only that the sound is very similar to something I heard last year which turned out to be the bearings in one of the wheels and had to be replaced. I suspect the other wheel must be heading the same way.

I've become very aware of the numerous possible mechanical failures that could happen, but electrical ones hadn't crossed my mind. For a car of this age, the fact I've never had to replace the battery or a light bulb is pretty amazing.

I look through the owner's manual, desperately hoping there might be some kind of override to get the window back up. There is a sequence if the window is stuck halfway, but it doesn't work for this problem.

However the word "fuse" catches my attention. I flick to the index, back to the pages where fuses are gone over in detail, and work out the one I need to check is behind a panel under the glove box.

It's dark under there, wet on the ground outside where I'm kneeling with the door open, and I end up half upside down on my back trying to match up what I see with the diagrams in the manual.

Eventually I succeed in removing the panel, finding the fuses and locating the one I need to check.

Unfortunately I can't seem to get it out of the fuse box.

Another flick through the manual and I discover there's a particular device for removing fuses, located in the fuse box in the main engine compartment under the bonnet (or hood for you lot across the Atlantic).

More checking of diagrams and I locate the fusebox, remove the cover and search frantically for anything resembling the wee line drawing.

Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I pick up the fusebox cover to replace it and notice the fuse removing device attached to the underside.

Back under the glovebox I finally remove the fuse, inspect it, and it's fine. Not blown at all. Nor is the one next to it.

I put everything back and reassemble the panel, defeated.

It's Sunday - there won't be any garages open. If I call the breakdown service I'm signed up to, they will tow the car the 60 miles home, but we're staying in a Bed and Breakfast in Girvan, about 15 miles down the road. We've been away only one night and will be going home tomorrow anyway, so we should try and get to Girvan before we decide what we're going to do the following day.

But it's raining, and if we drive back like this, the interior of the car will be soaked long before we get there.

I have some plastic sheeting in the boot (or trunk for you lot across the Atlantic), and manage to borrow a roll of masking tape from the cafe across the road. 10 minutes and half a roll of masking tape later, we set off for Girvan. At the top of the road I reach the first t-junction and suddenly realise I can't see anything out the left side of the car because of the plastic sheeting. So I have to angle my car to the left until I can see through the front window whether anything is coming, before turning the car to the right once it's clear.

After 25 hair-raising minutes we reach the B&B, remove anything vaguely valuable or useful from the car and stagger into the hallway. The landlady is just coming out of the kitchen and asks how our day has been.

Upon explaining our window problem, she lights up and shouts for her husband who, apparently, is quite the handyman and knows a bit about cars too.

I start getting my hopes up.

I take the car round to his garage behind the house. As he rummages through his toolbox and grabs a screwdriver he tells me he's fine with the mechanics of most older cars, but electrics and modern cars are not his thing.

I stop getting my hopes up.

He's looking at the inside of the door wondering how to get the panelling off. I start looking around the shelves. Suddenly there's a whirr and click and he says, "Looks like it's working!"

He'd poked the screwdriver into the slot the switch comes out of and dislodged something that had got in there causing it to jam.

Problem solved.

No need to call the breakdown recovery service, no need to cut our break short, no need to drive 60 miles home without being able to see out the left side of the car.

The warmth and hospitality offered by Lynn and Keith of The Merchant House Bed & Breakfast in Girvan was already wonderful: comfy bed, tasty breakfast (including toast from freshly homemade bread), and some homemade shortbread to take away with us. But sorting out my car and saving me huge amounts of stress and hassle takes hospitality to a whole new level. I cannot sing their praises highly enough.

If ever you are thinking about staying on the east side of SW Scotland, then this is the first place you should consider!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Photograhing DJ Kesha Ayres

When my niece, Kesha, was still a teenager, she travelled halfway round the world to live in Indonesia. She'd visited there as part of a surfing team, fell in love with the place, and when she got back to the UK worked hard to save up the money to return to Bali.

In addition to being a surfing instructor, over the last few years she's been building up a formidable reputation as a DJ, and has been invited to play in other places throughout Asia.

Kesha standing next to a poster of her in Taiwan earlier this year

She flew back to the UK to spend a few weeks with her mother and sister, and during my recent trip down south it was great to catch up with her after nearly a decade, and to finally meet her husband, Taurus, in person.

Taurus and Kesha

Despite her usually living several thousand miles away, the wonders of modern technology and social media means I've been able to follow Kesha's career, and periodically she's asked my advice on images and to give my opinion on some photographers she's considered using. Needless to say promises were made that when we next met up I'd do some shots for her, despite the fact I've never been dancing in a night club so it's a whole scene I know nothing about.

I'd taken some of my photography equipment with me on my trip, but finding space to do a shoot was problematic. Quite simply, my sister's house doesn't have a great deal of room in it, and shooting outdoors comes with a whole set of problems - from hard shadows in direct sunlight, to getting wet if it's raining, to getting dive-bombed and shat on by the thousands of seagulls that live in the fishing town of Brixham.

The ideal solution turned out to be under an old bridge near the top of town.

Google Maps' Street View of the bridge we used for the photo shoot

Not only did it provide protection from sun, rain and seagulls, but acted as a bit of a wind tunnel too, so I was able to get some shots of Kesha's hair artfully moving in the breeze. And with coloured gels over the flashes, the old stone wall gave the impression of an underground basement night club.

Coloured gels casting a light on her hair and the wall behind

The only real problem we had was receiving a lot of strange looks by everyone who walked past us, and having to stop and get into the side of the road every few minutes when cars and vans drove past. However, Kesha reckoned that if we'd been doing this in Bali, within a few seconds we would be surrounded by a crowd of people watching the proceedings.

Taurus capturing me standing in the middle of the road to take the photos

I'm changing the batteries in one of the flashes, while Kesha gets a shot for her Facebook page

Here's a selection of the final images. Fortunately, when it comes to genetic distribution, Kesha managed to avoid ending up with my beard and bald patch, which made my job of making her look good an awful lot easier...

The flash with the blue gel didn't go off, but I still liked the image

Kesha had the headphone covers specially designed

Very much a DJ shot... so I'm told...

I was pleased with the final set of photos, but the whole thing did make me feel my age...

If you'd like to follow DJ Kesha Ayres on Facebook, you can find her page here:

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Travel, Reunions and Desserts

Last week I was down in Brixham, Devon, visiting my siblings, nephew and nieces - detouring via Chesterfield on the way down to visit my father, and via Dartmouth, Minehead and Bristol on the way back to see various friends, including everyone's favourite blogger, Pat.

Squiggly route from SW Scotland to Devon and back

I do the 950 mile round trip every 2 or 3 years. Usually I take my son, Rogan, with me but he's just started a new job so wasn't able to take the time off.

It's a journey fraught with deep emotions. For one reason or another, the various family members are never able to make it up to Scotland so the only way I get to see them is for me to take the time out to drive down.

Brixham itself holds several bad memories for me, so I have no desire to linger longer than necessary, but at the same time I feel a deep sense of yearning and regret at not seeing more of this part of my family.

This time my niece, Kesha, was over from Indonesia, where she went to live several years ago and is now building a reputation as hotly sought-after DJ. We've been connected on Facebook since she left and I've followed her career with interest, but it's been many years since I previously saw her.

She's often had difficulties with the photographers she's dealt with so needless to say Uncle Kim promised her a photo shoot when she came back to the UK.

Unfortunately there was't enough room in my sister's house to set up a temporary studio, so we went up the road, under an old bridge. This had the advantage of being out of direct sunlight so I could control the lighting, and the old stone walls had the feel of a basement nightclub when I put coloured gels in front of the flashes.

I've still to sit down and edit the photos for her yet, but here are a couple of behind the scenes shots of my shoot with DJ Kesha Ayres

Taken by Kesha's husband, Taurus

Coloured gels over the flashes to give that nightclub feel

We got a few strange looks from passers by, and had to leap back to the side of the road every time a car went past, but in the end we were pleased with what we got.

After 3 nights on my sister's sofa it was wonderful to be offered a real bed when I went over to Dartmouth to catch up with an old school friend, Graham. We met at the school reunion a couple of years ago. The 30 year time gap seemed to disappear and we connected as easily as if it had been last week. Graham had insisted I stay at his place next time I was in the area and the warmth and hospitality I was given from him and his family was a balm to my soul after the mixed emotions of the previous few days.

He took me up the river Dart in a boat to a pub in Dittisham for dinner. It was a beautiful ride up and back with the low sun glinting off the water and a pleasant summer breeze. Part of me wished I'd taken my camera, but I was glad I didn't. If I had, I'd have spent most of the ride trying to capture the atmosphere of the journey rather than actually enjoying it there and then.

The following day I headed up to see Pat (click here to read her account of our meeting). This was the 4th time I've met her in person, although we've known each other via blogging for nearly a decade. We first met 6 years ago for a cuppa, which extended into a long lunch and cemented our friendship.

This time I arrived for lunch and had forgotten her rules of hospitality meant there was enough to feed a small army and it would have been the height of rudeness not to have seconds (or thirds). And despite going out for dinner together that evening, the following morning I was piled up with breakfast and then cooked a big meal (not forgetting dessert) for lunch. And this time I didn't even have Rogan to help me through it.

But despite needing to create 2 extra holes in my belt, it was delightful spending time with Pat once again. I did feel rather foolish, however - I'd bought her a bunch of lilies, which I only remembered about a few hours after I'd arrived, by which time they had all but fried on the back seat of my car in the hot sunshine. She didn't flinch but immediately put them in cold water and never gave the slightest hint of disapproval or disappointment.

Elegant, warm, friendly and forgiving. It was difficult to leave Pat, but at least we still play Scrabble daily online.

Bloggers reunited

The final evening of my journey was spent in Bristol with sculptor, Lucianne Lassalle. We collaborated in a project together last year and have an idea or 2 for the future.

The main course at the Italian restaurant we ended up in was very tasty, but they had hardly any puddings available. Slightly disappointed I ordered some vanilla ice cream (they didn't even have any chocolate!), but then Lucianne suggested we could go elsewhere for dessert.

This was a concept entirely new to me - given the limited number of eateries where I live - but in the area of Bristol Lucianne lives, about every 4th building has a restaurant of some kind. So I chased after the waitress, cancelled the ice cream, got the bill and we went across the road were we tucked into an indulgent, creamy, chocolaty delight.

The following day I drove the final 350 mile stretch home to fall into the arms of my beloved Maggie, just in time for dinner - followed by richly sumptuous home made chocolate brownies and ice cream.

I swear I must have put on about 10 pounds in the last 3 days...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Surprisingly, I seem to be well...

Last Monday Rogan went down with something horrible. Food poisoning was his own diagnosis. He couldn't think what he'd eaten that might have caused it, but he was convinced the symptoms seemed to fit.

However, in the middle of night a couple of days later, Maggie got hit by the same thing, so it was obviously something else.

Later in the day, Holly went down with it.

That night, so did Meg.

I was the last man standing...

... waiting for my turn...

... and waiting.

Never before have I been so hyper aware of every single ache, burble, internal movement or noise - each one surely indicating the onset of this extremely unpleasant illness.

Nearly a week has now passed and everyone is now pretty much over it, so it seems I have survived unscathed.

I'm extraordinarily grateful it bypassed me but I have absolutely no explanation why.

Still getting wee bursts of panic each and every time my stomach gurgles though...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Status Quo live in Dumfries

"Please please pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease..." I threw myself onto the floor in front of Andrea - commissioning editor of Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine - reached out and squeezed her ankles then looked up pleadingly while trying to make my small grey eyes as large as possible, and begged her to set me up with a press pass.

Undignified, perhaps. But it worked.

A couple of my photos in Dumfries and Galloway Life

A few weeks ago legendary rockers, Status Quo, played at Palmerston Park in Dumfries - the football grounds of Queen of The South - to a crowd of over 5,000 people. It might not sound much when you think of stadium filling concerts of many big named bands, but this is Dumfries we're talking about, so was on a scale virtually unheard of.

As a teenage headbanger, I had the longest hair of any boy in the school, and my school bag was covered in carefully scribbled names of as many rock and metal bands as I could think of. Status Quo may not have been the heaviest of metal, but they knew how to rock and have a good time, and I was a fan.

These days they might look a bit like your granddad, and their famous wide-legged stance when playing the guitars is considerably less wide as you fear for the state of their hips, but they can still work an audience to perfection, playing everyone's favourite songs with just the right level of banter to keep the crowd cheering.

Leg stance not quite as wide as it once was

And while there were people of all ages at this rare local event, it has to be said the majority were definitely over 45...

With a small handful of other press photographers, I was given free reign of "the pit" - the space between the audience and the stage, allowing us to get in close with the cameras.

With support from Big Country and Reef, it was great night out.

And it didn't even rain.

Here are a selection of my favourites, but you can find many more on my Facebook page here:


There's nothing phallic about a guitar...

"It's the wrong trousers, Gromit, and they've gone wrong!"

Dedicated Fans

Dedication taken to a whole new level

Rockin' All Over The World

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Eden Festival, Photos and Birthday Card

The Cracked Man played at Eden Festival this past weekend.

One of the frustrating things for me as a phtographer and musician is I've yet to figure out how to take a photo of us while I'm playing. Fortunately I was able to hand my camera over to my friend and fellow photographer, Chloe, who took some lovely shots of us.

The Cracked Man playing in Rabbie's Tavern

However, the best thing about playing at festivals is that in return for performing for around 30 to 40 minutes (which is huge fun in its own right), I have the rest of the weekend to wander around with my camera, taking photos and listening to some great music.

Here's a wee selection of the images I took, but you can find more on my Facebook page, here:


I missed the powder paint war, but there were plenty of casualties...

The can-can

The pink panther as I'd never seen him before

Submotion Orchestra

Zoë Bestel and her new coat.

Today also happens to be the 20th birthday of my wee bouncing baby boy, Rogan. Not so wee now, on the one hand it's difficult to believe 2 decades have passed since he was born, and on the other it feels like I can't remember a time in my life when he wasn't a part of it.

In a tradition established many years ago, I usually make a birthday card for him by Photoshopping him into some image reflecting his tastes of the time. Previous cards have included him as Wolverine from The X Men, Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean, and Dr Who. Last week we went to the cinema to see the latest Mad Max movie, which we both thoroughly enjoyed....

Mad Max, or Raging Rogan?

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Dancing and movement

Alexandra retired from professional ballet dancing when she was 40 and then went on to become a fitness instructor. Now in her mid-60s, she is still incredibly fit and lithe.

We were put in contact via a mutual friend, and at the weekend she came to this corner of Scotland to collaborate with me in a series of photos for 2 separate projects.

When hunting for a potential venue for the shoot, I came across the Dumfries School of Dance, which is based in an old school house. With high windows and a wooden floor, it had just the atmosphere I was looking for.

The outcome of these projects won't be seen for quite some time to come. In the meantime, however, we were asked if we could do a couple of photos for the Dance School itself in exchange for the use of the studio, and I can show you these.

I was specifically asked if it was possible for some slightly abstract ones of the dancer, and a black silk scarf was left with us if we wanted to use it.

I figured the best approach would be to put the camera on a tripod and take some slow shutter-speed images - between 1/3rd and 1/5th of a second. This meant there would be a lot of movement blur which, if we played it right, could create some interesting photos.

I was really quite pleased with the result.

As always, feel free to click on the images for slightly larger versions.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Behind the scenes: Photo shoot of Macmath: The Silent Page

Last Autumn I wrote abut the photo shoot I did for Macmath: The Silent Page (see blog post here). The photos were for the promotion of a project bringing to life a selection of songs, some of which had not been heard for over 100 years, to be adapted and performed by some of Dumfries and Galloway's finest, internationally renowned, traditional musicians.

On Sunday I went along to one of the performances at Easterbrook Hall, which was a highlight of the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Festival. It was nothing short of superb.

A couple of weeks ago I remembered that Peter Renwick, the project manager, took various bits of movie footage of the shoot and gave it to me immediately afterwards, so I decided to create a little behind-the-scenes video.

Ali Burns, the creator of the idea and driving force behind the project, forwarded me a copy of a recording at one of their rehearsals, of the song Johnie Scot, which I added as a sound track.

I've also put together a folder on Facebook (you don't have to be a member to view it) of all the photos I did for the project, which includes individual portraits of the performers and some shots of Broughton House, where the Macmath collection of songs resides.


Ali and the others will be turning the songs from the project into a CD, which you can pre-order from here: