Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Trading Journeys

Hi kim, how about thursday morn at breakfst? somewhere near creetown or newton, i can tell u wher exactly the night before. Then u get a bit of fireside and also horsedrawn as I leave.

Although my heart sank a bit at the thought of getting up early, the text was from one of my favourite people to photograph, Alice Francis (See I'm Humphrey Bogart and So's My Wife and Photographing a Fish out of Water). She was on a trek with a horsedrawn cart from Auchencairn to Wigtown as part of an art event called "Trading Journeys",which was tying in with the start of the Wigtown Book Festival. The event organiser, The Stove, had asked me to get some photos of her on her journey, so texts were under way for working out where and when I would catch up with her.

Wednesday evening:

Kim, if you go out of creetown as if for skyreburn on the old military road, i am on the right after the woods I will tie a black and green scarf on the gate as i am quite hidden.

Ok. I'll try and be with you for about 7.30-ish to get some breakfasting and getting-ready shots

And praps some shots getting kicked off by the farmer!! Haha! Bring a cup!!! Not much power, must turn off x

Despite the unusually lovely weather we've been having throughout most of September, this particular Thursday morning turned out to be a bit dreich and smirry. I'd checked Google Maps before setting off but struggled to find where Alice might be camped: no sign of a green and black scarf and her phone had run out of battery.

I drove up the road to a point way beyond the woods and it was clear I must have missed it, turned round and went back down to Creetown, turned round again and drove very slowly back up the road, stopping at every gate and peering over. Eventually I met Alice on the road with a bunch of sticks in her hand. She said she'd heard a car go by and had thought it was probably me, so came out to catch me next time past and pick up a bit of firewood at the same time.

After a cup of tea (I had brought my own mug with a teabag in it) and a blether I then set about getting the photos. As always, feel free to click on them for slightly larger versions, or head through to the album on my Facebook page for the full set:


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Magic Carpet

When I first met the family of Chris, Leto, Alamnesh and Theodore, I was struck by their sense of creativity, interest and engagement. So when the opportunity arose to do a fantasy photo shoot with them, I was intrigued with the direction it might go.

A circus was one of the first ideas, including a human cannonball and fire breathing, while another was based around an amazing troll puppet Chris had carved, with a 2-inch high family running away from it through the herb garden. The tricky bit wasn't creative ideas, it was finding one they could all agree on.

Eventually the notion of riding a magic carpet was settled on and the problem solving steps were begun. Tables were put together in the back garden with a carpet laid on top. A blue tarpaulin was put under the carpet to act as a sort of blue-screen to make it easier for me to cut it out in Photoshop later on. Test shots were started and abandoned because it started raining. Trips up the hills to find a suitable view to place the magic carpet against. And then waiting for the right combination of weather and everyone being available at the same time.

Amazingly we finally managed to get everything together where I was able to take the photo of the magic carpet in their garden and get up into the hills to shoot the landscape, making sure the angles and timing were right so shadows would match up.

Then came the far-more-complicated-than-I-could-possibly-have-realised editing process of fitting it all together. It wasn't just about how to cut out hair so it looked natural against the sky, it was also the finish I wanted it to have. As a straight-forward photo, it didn't work. What was required was to reinforce a sense of a fantasy tale. I went through many different styles, at one point even turning it into a cartoon image. In the end what I felt worked the best was to give it a look of a faded page from a storybook

I have to confess I was a wee bit pleased with the final result.

Click on the photo for a larger version.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The night before the night before the Referendum for Scottish Independence

On Thursday this week, more or less everyone over 16 years of age who is resident in Scotland will get to vote on whether this country remains a part of the UK or goes its own way as a completely separate nation.

Although I was born in England, this vote is not about birth or inheritance, it is about where you live and, as I live in Scotland, I get a vote. I get a say in how I want this bit of rock I live on to be governed.

While the passions have been strong on both sides of the debate, it has ignited a response the likes of which haven't been seen in the UK, or quite possibly the western world, for decades. 97% of those eligible to vote have registered to do so. It is reckoned turnout will be over 80%. And at this late stage of the game, there are at least half a million people who are still claiming they are undecided. No one, at this moment, knows exactly how it is going to turn out. Unless MI5 are involved and the whole thing is being orchestrated and controlled to make sure the outcome is exactly as the UK Government wants.

I am not undecided. I weighed it up pretty early on, came to some pretty clear conclusions and despite being as open as I can to the opposing views, have not been convinced to change my mind since.

I haven't been shouting my position from the rooftops, nor have I been condemning anyone who disagrees with me. Given all the information, arguments and passion out there already, I can't imagine for a moment anything I say or do is going to be a contributing factor to anyone else's position. I understand why some people want it, and I understand why other people don't, and I understand why so many are still undecided.

I'm not putting together this blog post to convince anyone why they should vote this way or that. I'm putting it here so I can look back in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and see why I made the decision to vote the way I did. Either I will be pleased at how obviously sensible I was, or I will be cursing my naïveté. So in part, this is a message to my future self to remind me why I ticked that box rather than the other.

There are many different issues, arguments, facts, challenged facts, opinions dressed up as facts, cultural influences, desires, yearnings and fears. How can we navigate them all? The truth is, we can't.

Right here, right now, I have no idea how many barrels of oil are left in the North Sea; I don't know whether the UK denying the pound as currency to an independent Scotland is bluff or folly; I don't know whether Scotland will become a social utopia or will tear itself apart.

So what am I voting on?

The only thing we can do is look at what we currently have and project forwards as best we can to see how that is likely to pan out. Then we decide whether we want to carry on with that trajectory or decide to opt for a different direction, even though we might not know what direction that is.

Do we stay with the known or do we leap into the unknown?

Do we stick with the devil we know, or is that just a sure fire way of ensuring the devil stays in power?

So what do I see when I look at what we currently have as part of the UK and the direction it's going?

Despite being one of the richest nations in the world, I see the growth of foodbanks; I see the vilification and withdrawing of support for the poor, the disabled and the vulnerable; I see the dismantling of the NHS; I see billions of pounds poured into nuclear weapons which are stored just 25 miles away from the most populated city in Scotland; I see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and the vulnerable becoming more vulnerable; I see detached, power-hungry, money driven politicians serving no one but themselves and their wealthy friends.

So I'm voting for a chance of change.

Despite how Yes voters are portrayed by much of the media, this isn't about being anti-English - how could it be? I'm English, my siblings are English and my children are half English.

Nor is it about being brainwashed by Alex Salmond like he is some cult leader and will be crowning himself King. In the event of a Yes decision, Alex Salmond wouldn't become the ruler of Scotland - he would be prime minister until the following election at which point he would be up against all the other parties wanting a say in how this new nation would be run.

Nor is it about some stupid belief that the day after the referendum everything will magically turn into a land of milk and honey. It is the first step toward change and change will only happen if we keep making steps forward. There would be a lot of work to do and things are likely to get worse before they get better, but if the desire is strong enough, then things could get considerably better than under the current system.

The only thing that has really made me waver, pause and feel guilty at the idea of voting Yes, is the poor, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will still be under the abusive power of Westminster but have less people standing next to them.

But under the current system, I have become disempowered. My vote means nothing in Westminster. If I convinced every single person in Scotland to vote against the Conservatives in the next election, it wouldn't make any difference. The UK government is mostly decided by those living in the South East corner of England.

But even if Labour got in at the next election, they have moved so far to the right in their politics over the past couple of decades, that they now occupy the same political space as Thatcher did back in the 1980s. They are a right-wing party that are less right wing than the current occupants of the ruling body. And they see their biggest threat as coming from UKIP, which is an even more right-wing party, so they are adjusting their policies to placate them.

Who is looking out for the poor, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable? No one in Westminster, no matter who I vote for.

Scottish politics, by comparison, has always leaned more towards social justice and equality, while still respecting creativity and enterprise. Indeed, the creativity and enterprise has generally been encouraged for the benefit of all, and not just an elite.

I am not blinded by my hopes. I know full well the biggest problem with any new Scottish parliament is it will be full of politicians. They too will have their fair share of power-hungry, money driven people serving no one but themselves and their wealthy friends.

But - and this is a really important point - if I disagree with who's running Scotland - whatever colour their banner - my voice will carry greater weight in effecting change than it currently does in the UK as a whole.

And this is what my vote boils down to - my psychological makeup. I am the kind of person who, when faced with a situation I really dislike, I look for ways to change it - even if there is a risk it might be change for the worse. And if does turn out that way, then I look to change it again. And again. And again. Until things improve.

The most effective way of any bastard staying in power is by making those under them believe it wouldn't make any difference if they tried to change things, and would probably make things even worse. This is the ultimate way to disempower anyone.

And I kick against that.

For me, a Yes vote on Thursday is a way to make change happen. And if we end up with a government we don't like, then we can vote them out and try another, and another, and another, until things improve. Something I am disempowered from doing as part of the UK.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Cracked Man Live in Dumfries Town Centre

On Sunday, Marcus and I played under the Midsteeple in Dumfries Town Centre as part of the "In Our Town" summer festivities programme.

(Photos courtesy of Our Dumfries & Galloway - https://www.facebook.com/ourdg)

It was a dry and mostly sunny day and we played our set twice - once at 1pm and again at 3pm, with a bit of time off in between to eat our sandwiches, chat and be treated to a coffee by our friend, Rachel.

Fueled by a double espresso, I was on fire for our second set - completely in the zone - and I felt it was one of my best performances to date.

It's just a shame Dumfries Town Centre tends to be virtually deserted on a Sunday afternoon...

(Photo courtesy of Kevin Sloan, KSS Images - https://www.facebook.com/kssimages)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Bramble Hunting

Each year in the Ayres household, The Great Bramble Hunt takes place.

Brambles (or blackberries as they are known South of the border and in other parts of the world) are ruthlessly hunted down, picked, thrown into plastic tubs and brought triumphantly home for the matriarch to inspect. If she approves some will be turned into Bramble Crumble while the remainder will be frozen, ready for transformation into Bramble Ice Cream at Christmas.

One of the finest fruits in existence

Last year, due to a combination of weather and bad timing, the harvest was poor. We struggled to fill a small tub, and what we did gather didn't have the rich taste we so enjoy and required lots of added sugar to try and make up for it.

However this year my daughter, Meg, and I managed a bumper crop. We headed out with 2 litre, 1 litre and ½ litre tubs and managed to fill all of them, which amounts to about 4 pounds of brambles. Later in the day I managed another ½ pound from the briars in one corner of the garden.

Stained fingers

I am salivating in anticipation...