Thursday, March 31, 2011

Scottish Tattoo Convention – Part 1

“Excuse me!” Do you mind if I take your photo?”

I’d finally said it. Now was the moment of truth. Would he say yes, or would he punch me in the face and smash my camera?

This weekend past, Rogan and I went to the Scottish Tattoo Convention in Edinburgh. Neither of us sought, or left with, a tattoo (I think Maggie might quite possibly have divorced me if either of us had returned with one) – we were there to take photos. Or rather I was there to take photos and Rogan was along for the ride.

Rewind to last Autumn when I was in Bathgate taking photos of The Sex Pistols Experience. The lead singer of the support band, Cash From Chaos, is a guy called Skid, and I took some photos of him and his band on the same evening.

Delighted with the images, he asked me if I’d be interested in attending the Scottish Tattoo Convention in Edinburgh – he knew the organisers, his band was playing there and he could get me and Rogan a pass.

As someone who loves faces, the opportunity to take photos of people milling around with tattoos, piercings and probably a few wild hairstyles too, seemed too good to miss.

However, there were 2 major problems to overcome. The 1st was how I was going to manage to get to Edinburgh and back, and enjoy the convention with the limited energy I have because of the CFS.

We decided to drive up early on Saturday morning – it’s about 2½ hours to Edinburgh – stay overnight at a Travelodge on the outskirts and drive home on Sunday. During the mid-afternoon, when my energy levels are at their lowest, I put the car seat down and rested for a couple of hours in car park.

This worked, although I am paying the price this week with (even more) excessive tiredness.

The 2nd problem was how I was going to overcome my reticence at asking random strangers if it would be ok to take their photo. The very thought of it made my stomach knot up and would bring me out in a cold sweat.

It’s a very different thing to take a photo of someone you know, or a client who wants (is indeed paying) you to, than it is to intrude on someone else’s personal space, uninvited.

When we entered the convention there were hundreds of people I would love to have had in a studio to photograph. Outlandish hairstyles, multiple facial piercings and, of course, the biggest collection of tattoos I have ever seen.

I couldn’t back down now, and return without photographing anyone. Not only would I feel sick at myself for chickening out, but I had Rogan with me, and I couldn’t lose face in front of my son.

There was no choice. A guy with studs protruding from under his lips and a tattoo on his neck, poking up from under his t-shirt, was heading in our direction.

“Excuse me!” Do you mind if I take your photo?”

Part 2 to follow.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Another missing tooth

Almost 4 years ago I lost one of my front crowns (I have 4). For 3½ months I went about looking like a country hick, occasionally adopting the pirate look for variation.

My dentist at the time seemed amazed any of my crowns had lasted as long as they had, considering they had been attached to filed-down teeth rather than a metal rod. Squeezing me into a series of last minute cancellation appointments, in order to avoid having to wait 9 months for treatment, I was given a root canal and eventually had a new crown put in place by late summer.

What was clear, though, was it would only be a matter of time before the other 3 would go the same way.

Last week, while innocently eating a bowl of muesli for breakfast, I had that gut-churning realisation that another of my crowns had snapped off.

A couple of days later I managed to get an emergency appointment at the dentist where it has been confirmed I will need root canal treatment and a new crown.

I was fitted with a temporary plastic make-do thing until my next appointment – could be July, but I have put my name down as being ready to drop everything at an hour’s notice if someone cancels before then.

The temporary plastic make-do thing fell out with this morning’s bowl of muesli.

Perhaps I should start eating porridge for breakfast.

However, it set me thinking about how much difference a small change can make to our appearance.

Let us establish a base line image – here is a 44 year old man with wrinkles bedding in nicely while grey hairs are establishing themselves ever more abundantly through his hair and beard.

Studies have shown that when looking at photos of people with glasses, we naturally assume them to be a bit more intelligent – it’s a form of “halo effect” – which is where a particular attribute means we look more favourably upon someone.

Drop those glasses to the end of the nose and we add wisdom to the list of expected characteristics

However, a missing tooth seems to have completely the opposite effect. We instantly knock off about 30 IQ points, and start to assume his mother is also his sister and his regular lover supplies all the family’s wool needs.

So I thought I’d see what would happen if I combined the look of my reading glasses on the end of my nose, while revealing my missing tooth. Would they balance each other out?

Actually I think all it’s done is make me look about 30 years older.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Becc Sanderson & Graeme Stephen at The Mill Sessions

The 3rd of The Mill Sessions was last week, and this time featured jazz singer, Becc Sanderson with guitarist Graeme Stephen. As before (see Beth Fouracre at the Mill Sessions and Sean Taylor and the Mill Sessions), time was set aside for me to take photos.

Both were quite relaxed in front of the camera, but Becc knew how to play to it - which was fun for me, as usually I have to spend quite a bit of time getting people to a point where they stop looking like a rabbit in the headlights.

As usual, click on any of the images for a larger version.

Graeme and Becc

Jazz guitarist, Graeme Stephen

Becc Sanderson relaxed in front of the camera

Taking this photo I was practically lying on the floor on my back to get the angle I wanted.

In every photo session, there's always a time when the subject cannot keep a straight face.

Becc's dress, by the way, is a genuine vintage from the 1950s.

I am a photographer, and not a film maker. However, the camera I have does have quite a good movie capability on it, so I recorded one of the songs to give you a taster. This is "Cry Me a River". I especially love the breathy quality as she begins to sing.

If you're up in Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival this summer, then do keep an eye out for Becc who has is doing a show this year.

Meanwhile if you would like to experience more of Becc's singing, then visit her MySpace page here. And you can discover more about Graeme on his website, here

Monday, March 21, 2011

World Down Syndrome Day

Today (or rather the few minutes remaining of it as I type this) is March 21st, or World Down Syndrome Day. DS is a chromosomal trait whereby the 21st pair of chromosomes in each cell is in fact a triplet. DS is also known as Trisomy 21 for this reason.

And so, with the numbers 3 and 21 being rather significant, World Down Syndrome Day is held on the 21st day of the 3rd month each year.

For those who know us personally, or have followed my blog for a while, you will know already that my daughter, Meg, has DS. And for those of you who didn’t know, well, you do now. Feel free to click here or on the Down’s Syndrome label on my sidebar in the section “Find your favourite topics” (now on the left column of this blog, until I decide to redesign it again) for more information, or ask me questions in the comments if you have any.

Meg is in mainstream education. She goes to the local high school, where she attends most of the classes other children of her age go to. In some classes she is more or less keeping up, in others she goes at her own pace with the help of a support assistant. There are a couple of classes she doesn’t attend, but is involved in separate activities in the Support Unit to help develop areas she might have difficulties in.

So, given the date, I thought it might be worth mentioning we recently received Meg’s first High School Pupil Report.

In every single subject she does, whether it is Art, Science, Home Economics or IT she has received the same grade for both Effort and Behaviour – “Excellent” – the highest possible.

The report is full of quotes such as, “I wish more pupils we like her as it would make my life a lot easier” (Information Technology); “Meg is a delightful girl to have in the class and always gives her best” (Music); “...she has made a positive contribution to the class” (Mathematics).

What is clear about Meg is, whatever subject she is engaged in and at whatever level, she does her best.

As I have tried to impress on my son many times, the difference between the minimum we can get away with, and the maximum we are capable of, can be vast. The effort we put into things determines not whether we necessarily succeed or not in the task, but is a reflection of who we are as people and how we will face the world.

Meg faces the world by doing her best.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

Friday, March 18, 2011

3 days and 3 nights

Of course Maggie and I have had time away from the kids over the years.

A night here, a night there. Sometimes even two consecutive nights, although that is rarer.

But three nights?

The last time Maggie and I had three nights in a row without any children was...

...before Rogan was born.

So we're talking about 16 years or thereabouts.

It's been a long, long winter.

A cottage overlooking the sea with a path down to the beach at the bottom of the garden.

Three nights.

There aren't the words...

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Another new layout

Yes, it's all change once again. The last set of tweaks just made the whole thing too cluttered once more.

After chatting online to Australian Katie earlier today, I realised my basic problem was, I was being torn in 2 directions.

Part of me was looking to create a clean, modern looking site reflecting my photography. However, I already have my photography website doing that.

This blog, on the other hand is about much more than just photography. Here I write about anything that's occupying my thoughts - whether that is family matters, physical and mental health, religion, philosophy, Chronic Fatigue, music, food, overheard conversations, or anything else that grabs my attention. And while photography is a part of it, this is not really a photography blog.

In some ways I think of this place more like a comfy armchair by the fire where you can ponder the universe, play scrabble with friends, or invite people to join you for a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

Once I understood that, I knew I had to declutter but also give it a home-made feel. And this is the result.

Thanks to Katie and everyone who has given me feedback on the changes so far.

Of course, it might have changed again next time you visit...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Blog Layout

A completely meaningless post to those reading it in their RSS feed, or on Facebook imported notes, but for those who read my posts directly off my blog you might have noticed a change in the design and layout of this place.

For a while I've felt the last design was just a bit too cluttered and hard to find your way around. Additionally, because I converted the last one from a Wordpress design, there were a few things that didn't run smoothly when it came to making edits and adjustments.

I'm hoping that this will make things easier.

Thoughts and comments on the new look are appreciated. It might well change a few times over the next couple of days as I make more tweaks to it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Unfortunately,” I replied, “£5.62 + £2.56 (postage and packing) = £8.18 – which is still more expensive than buying a completely new watch from Amazon, discarding the watch and just using the strap for my existing one.

Since I was teenager, the kind of watch I have worn, more than any other, has been a fairly basic Casio digital watch. Reasonably hard wearing, it has a good battery life, is water resistant, tells me at a glance what day and date it is, has a stopwatch, an alarm, a little light I can press so I can see the display in the dark, and isn’t expensive. On top of all that, it even tells me the time reasonably accurately.

Over the years I’ve periodically had different watches, which have looked a bit more modern or professional, but they’ve not had the functionality, or they’ve broken easily, or have even been lost. Each time I’ve found myself watchless, I’ve ended up buying another Casio digital. They do everything I need them to and if they are lost or broken, then it doesn’t break the bank to replace it.

This one is my 4th or 5th.

The only weak point is the strap, and this latest lasted only 15 months before it tore off at the point at which I connect the buckle.

I wandered down to the local cobblers, which also does key cutting and watch straps, only to find their straps started at £7.99. Considering I could buy a brand new watch from Amazon for 2p less, and the P&P would be free, I couldn’t bring myself to pay more for a strap than I had for the watch.

And yet, the idea of buying a new watch, just because of the strap, when the actual watch part still has a few years of life left in it, made me wince. My inner anti-consumer-society, green-aware, recycling-conscious conscience started prodding me.

I checked out the other shops in town, but nowhere else sold watch straps without watches attached to them. Back home I went online where they seemed to start at £12 and go upwards.

Finally, in frustration, I sent an email to Casio explaining my dilemma. 2 days later I received a reply telling me the part I needed was only £5.62 + £2.56 P&P.

I started typing my response, which is where you joined the tale. I also added in a bit about how this bizarre situation was likely to end up as a blog post for my 950 followers and it would be nice to write that Casio had come up with a solution.

By this time, the weekend was upon us so when we had to go into Dumfries for a few other bits and pieces, I wandered off to try and find a watchstrap. Once again, only cobblers seemed to sell them without watches pre-attached. The first I visited had them starting from £7.99, but I managed to find another which sold them for £7. Hardly a huge saving, but it felt like some kind of principle was at stake, and by now I was fed up with constantly looking at a bare wrist before remembering to fish my watch out of my pocket each time I wanted to check the hour.

Yesterday I received a reply from Casio, which included the line, “my manger has given me a one off special price for you and we will waive the postage charge.” All I had to do was phone with my credit card details to get a new strap for £3.30.

I hummed and hawed for quite some time, but decided today to go ahead and buy one. I have no doubt I will need it in the future, but I’m unlikely to be able to pull of a stunt like that a second time.

Perhaps I should have bought 2...


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Picnic on a cold, grey day

“Let’s go for a picnic tomorrow - it's supposed to be dry this weekend. We can go down to Rascarrel beach. It’ll do us all good to get some fresh air, and it’s been a while since we last saw the sea.”

Saturday morning:
“It’s a bit grim out. I know it’s not actually raining, but the air is damp and there’s a cold wind.”

“Isn’t the sun is supposed to make an appearance this afternoon?”

“It varies depending on which weather forecast I look at. According to one, it might not show its face until just before it sets. Let’s do the picnic thing tomorrow.”

Sunday Morning:
“Once we are out it will be fine. We just have to overcome the yearning, aching desire to stay in the house and forget that we feel tired and irritable and ignore the fact it’s dull grey and cold outside.”

This is actually taken as an article of faith and I have a seriously hard time believing it. Judging by the faces staring back at me, certainly no one else does.

Maggie makes a pot of soup. This is transferred to the flasks while bread rolls, rice crackers, oatcakes, a couple of pieces of fruit and a few chocolate biscuits are placed in a plastic tub.

There is fuss when it comes to finding coats, boots and last minute visits to the bathroom.

There are arguments about who sits where in the car.

There are moans about headphones on mp3 players not working; about bumps in the road; about being squashed when going round corners.

When we turn off down the last stretch of dirt track, off a narrow country lane, and the bottom of the car makes a loud scraping noise as I bounce in and out of a huge pothole, I am ready to just turn around and head home, defeated. But we are only now 200 yards from the car park so we might as well carry on.

Since the land owner controversially booted off all the owners of an array of beach huts a few years ago, the path to the beach gets more overgrown each year. It won’t be long before it’s impassable. Briars, gorse and untended trees snag rucksacks and coats and pierce thinner clothing. Youngest daughter and wife have to be helped through some of the trickier sections of the journey.

And then, finally, we clamber down the last section to the pebble beach and the sea opens out before us. Stones of various sizes are picked up and thrown into the sea with satisfying splashes.

Maggie and I work our way to the far end, clamber over some rocks around the corner and find the favourite spot where we can sit fairly comfortably and stare at the sea. The younger ones arrive just as we finish pouring soup into plastic cups.

Maggie always makes wonderful soup, but sitting in thick coats with scarves and woolly hats in temperatures of 4C degrees, with the salty air in our nostrils, it tastes heavenly.

Fed and (briefly) rested Holly and Meg go exploring while Rogan, with the unbelievable metabolism of a 15 year old boy is now leaping over rocks, practicing parkour manoeuvres, coat and hoodie discarded. And it’s only a matter of time before I get the camera out to try and capture some sense of what he’s up to.

An hour later heading home, cold, tired but in much higher spirits, instead of complaints from the back of the car, laughter now dominates.

Once back, I go for a rest while Rogan lights the fire and they all settle down with a hot chocolate.

It was worth all the hassle after all.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Tawona and Ernest

Continuing the arrangement with The Bakehouse, in Gatehouse of Fleet (you might remember me writing about it when I photographed Bashabi a few weeks ago), on Saturday past I was invited to photograph guest poet, Tawona Sithole, and his brother, Ernest.

The brothers are based in Glasgow, though they’re originally from Zimbabwe. Along with artist, Tarneem Al Mousawi, they founded a group called "Seeds of Thought" combining poetry, music and art.

They took to the camera well, quite quickly overcoming any apprehension.

Although, they didn’t always find it easy to keep a straight face

They also play mbira (sometimes known as a thumb piano), which has quite an amazing sound.

Between The Bakehouse and The Mill Sessions, I’m getting to meet some really interesting people. It’s just as shame I only get to spend an hour with them.

For those on Facebook, you can find more out about Seeds of Thought here: