Following on from my last post about my previous trip to Scotland I thought Id make a few modifications to my arrival after the last fiasco. Id booked both trips at the same time and the same details so instead of driving for hours I realised this time I would be arriving during school holidays so get a car park near the school, put the reflective window blinds up in the van, put up blackout blinds, open the window slightly, spread the sleeping bag out and a couple of hours restful sleep..
..of course I chose the morning the municipal bins get emptied…. One of these days Ill get it right or just spend a few quid extra and book a ferry at a reasonable hour.
The plan this time was along the same lines as last time except do the east coast instead of west. So start off with a couple of days in Edinburgh, then up to Inverness, attend wedding, nurse hangover, then go down the north east coastline to Aberdeen, then down to Dundee and home. Simple enough.
It was difficult to get a hotel in Edinburgh city centre and although I was driving ended up getting a hotel on the outskirts on a bus lane and just bussing it in to town. I remembered driving into Edinburgh 15 years ago and it was a nightmare then, and all other trips had been by coach/air to the ice hockey so was drunk most of those trips.
A couple of days before leaving I realised why it was so difficult to get hotels, it was right smack bang in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival. I briefly considered touting around for some festival work as I was bringing the van and could bring more kit but decided against it, festival work meant late nights, sitting up editing then sleeping in and missing all thats going on around you. So it was the usual shoot from dawn til dusk then see what parts of the festival I could fit in around it.
Like the previous trip, I had been coming to Scotland for years but between the days in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh I saw more of Scotland than I ever had before.
I love Edinburgh, the new town and old town are beautiful parts of the world and between this trip and the ice hockey trips Ive seen it summer and winter. The buzz in and around the festival should be seen and sampled at least once in your life as is like nothing Id ever seen before. The sheer volume of events and people trying to drag you for free into low turnout daytime events makes it quite a lottery.
The weather was kind for the first couple of days which is unusual for Edinburgh summertime but allowed me to cover most of the photos I wanted to take in the first day and a half. Which left a couple of evenings free and I went down and chanced my arm for the Edinburgh Tattoo tickets.
Id tried their website before leaving but it was all booked up so hoped I’d get a chance of a cancellation ticket. So half hour in line and I had my ticket. I wasnt sure what to expect as I was a bit wary of the whole British Military thing and if it would be a gung ho type of show but I was pleasantly surprised. The show started with a flypast of a Tornado jet on full afterburner. From the reaction of the people around me I wasnt the only one that thought it was something coming from the speaker system other than a real live jet!
What followed can only be described as one of lifes true experiences. Dozens if not a hundred assembled bagpipes and drums playing in front of one of the worlds most picturesque castles to the setting sun. Any photos or videos dont do the whole experience justice. One group particularly stood out was a drumming group from Basel in Switzerland – google them and have a look at some of their youtube videos.
Go, see, hear, feel and enjoy.
The rest of the time was spent just wandering from place to place, running up blisters on my feet, sitting down briefly before moving on quickly for fear of missing something. Edinburgh, like my previous London trip will have to be visited away from the festival just to see some of the galleries and other ‘normal’ events. The only other show I managed to take in was Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell. I had photographed Andrew Maxwell before when he fronted a comedy show for Amnesty International during the Belfast Festival so it was good to go as a punter and watch the show rather than working.
If there is a problem with these busy places in busy times is that people dont really have time for interaction. When I was in Glasgow people had the time to stand and chat all day, but Edinburgh was just too busy so it was one of those trips where it was just a run around taking lots of pictures. A better trip for archive purposes but a bit dull on the travel side.
For that reason I was glad to get on the road and just head north to Inverness. The plan was to get booked into the B+B then head down to the Castle to have a look over the wedding preparations and inevitably get myself a job or two to do. Yes you did hear me right, a Castle.
Seeing as I got there and helped out I was elevated to family status and get to spend the wedding night in the Castle with a few hairy arsed Irishmen who unlike myself decided to dress up in skirts for the evening. Spend the night in 600 year old Castle, yes I’ll have a bit of that! Haunted? Nahh dont worry to much I’ll probably be that drunk we will be singing along in no time.
Somewhere along the whole stag weekend to wedding timeline someone had told the bride that myself and one of the other Irish guys had ‘sensible heads’. Now that can mean anything from helping to tidy up after the event, to explaining in haltering french to a series of CRS riot police with barking snarling rottweilers that your friends arent fighting, they are merely singing boisterously and will leave if I ask them (yes true story, and yes Im glossing over it). So I was put in charge of the evening BBQ, so long day, alcohol, fire, etc etc. You get the picture. I was also put in charge of lighting the chinese lanterns. Its a good job it rained the day before as that Arboretum in the Castle had taken hundreds of years to mature and we almost (see the use of the word we there instead of I) wiped it out with a few misplaced chinese lanterns.
I decided not to take any pictures the next day. I think sitting in front of the computer a couple of weeks later saying WTF quite loudly a lot before realised Id just wasted hard drive space and shutter clicks on photos which couldnt even be described as ‘arty’.
What I did remember though was speaking to someone who suggested I take a day trip up to Orkney. Sure enough there was one the next morning but it was a 3 hour drive and left at 10, so up at 6am before breakfast at the B+B. Still not happy about that. Now anyone that knows me will know I dont take breakfast but I do when travelling, you cant wander about from dawn to dusk without one. I know it makes no sense to ignore that when at home but I never said I did make sense do I?
I called the ferry company and told them Id be leaving early and to give me a ring if anything happens so I can turn round. Only now do I realise that at no point did I leave them my number, I guess Im used now to ringing people and them quoting my number back to me on caller display.
You can see where this is going, cant you?
The weather in Inverness was crap, the weather in Scotland was crap, in fact the only clear part of the whole British Isles was Orkney. Looking good!
I missed the bit about the 35mph winds.
So up at the crack of dawn, no breakfast, 3 hour drive, got to the ferry office only to be told ‘cancelled today, come back tomorrow.’ Slight problem with that in that tonight Im supposed to be in Aberdeen which is a 7 hour drive direct from here and then on to Belfast.
Now John O’Groats is known as the end of the earth, and I swear to God that the map had ‘here be dragons’ over it. A bleak desolate place whose only claim to fame is that is a bleak desolate place. I shouldve known really!
At least they have a cafe. Can I have a breakfast please? Sorry no eggs or bacon. I can do you sausages and toast though. By this stage Id have ate my shoe leather if Id had any shoe leather.
So got out my trusty tablet and had a look at nearby attractions which were indoors (was raining horizontally at this stage). A couple of miles up the road there was the Dounreay nuclear power station visitors centre. Now when I first read that I thought if I turned up there my balls would end up glowing in the dark. Maybe I shouldnt have shared that particular piece of information. Why is it when anyone mentions nearby nuclear power station I feel I have to put a lead shield in my boxers. Its not as if the rest of me is immune.
Anyway it was the only thing within any range that either was open or looked mildly interesting…
…the fact it had closed 3 years ago hadnt reached internet land yet.
Nor had I noticed that Id left my satnav directions on shortest rather than quickest so pissed off, tired, hungry, I thought Id just head for my hotel in Aberdeen – 7 hours away, get something to eat, hot shower, early to bed and see what the morning looked like.
Of course the shortest route was along 40 odd miles of single track road which, if I’d been in my alfa, would have been one of the most memorable driving experiences of my life. I wasnt, I was in a high sided van with dubious brakes and with an odd noise coming from the gearbox in an area with no mobile reception and no houses, towns, anything. By the end of that road I could have crushed coal into a diamond if Id put it between my ass cheeks.
On the way back to Aberdeen I took a detour past a couple of RAF bases, Lossiemouth and Kinloss. The clouds were low and the Tornado jets even lower. The displays those guys were putting on made the tattoo display look pedestrian.
So I arrived into the Granite city to rain and more rain. Jesus what a place. Dull cold and grey. Id been told about how grey the place was and to say everything was granite didnt really prepare me for how grey the place was and yes everything was made of granite. Thoroughly depressing looking place. Im sure even sunshine wouldnt brighten this place up.
Cold, tired, hungry again I checked into the hotel and just went out for Pizza. Getting back into the lift I was joined by a young lady on the same floor who happened to remark on how good my pizza smelled. I was past the point of caring so did the old ‘I’ll share it with you if you want’.
I’ll not go any further with this part of the story, except to say, Aberdeen turned out to not nearly as bad as I’d thought and I’ll be buying more pizza and travelling up and down in the lift in every hotel I visit from now on! Although at the time of writing Im in Las Vegas and some of the ladies Ive met in the lifts will obviously not be swayed by mere pizza!
I was a bit tired the next day so thought I’d just drive home and pay the obligatory, get the hell out of Cairnryan early fee.
Which explains why Im sitting in a hotel room at 6am in rainy Vancouver catching up on blog posts from earlier on in the year. When I say Jet Lag its probably more to do with not knowing what time zone im in and if I do get to grips with it by tomorrow, I’ll be changing time zones again. More of that later.
For now I’ll skip back to May this year and I trip I took to Scotland.
I cant say Ive had a love/hate relationship with Scotland as I used to go with a girl from Glasgow and spent some time there and did come to genuinely hate the place. Except for trips with my football team (playing not watching) before that time and trips to see the ice hockey after that time, I honestly dont have any good memories of the place. That does say more about me than the place so with trepidation I booked a few days in Glasgow on the way up to the highlands to join a stag weekend in Glencoe. Yes, I know, I should know better but it seemed a good idea at the time….
The trip didnt start the greatest as in an effort to save a few quid I thought Id book the 3am ferry. Yes I know now how stupid that was and yes I really should have tried it out before booking the same ferry on the trip to the wedding later in August….
..but you see my plans made sense, if only in my own head, I’d drive over, find the first parking space, pull in , get the sleeping bag out, kip down in the van and the jobs a good one.
Well thats the theory….
and relied on finding a parking space handy, away from the road, away from people walking their dogs and away from primary schools, police stations, no stopping zones, car parks and laybys with ‘no overnight parking signs’ etc. As you probably have already gathered it wasnt the easiest task in the world. So after two hours of driving, an hour of which was busting for a piss….
…so a couple of hours later I woke up in a car park where the local womens group had decided to descend to take part in a sponsored walk. Now my van does have blacked out windows but I thought Id wait until they set off before climbing out of my sleeping bag, wearing only my boxers. FFS ladies, get a move on!
By this stage I was all ready for the heart attack on a plate that is the scottish breakfast. Its a bit like an Irish breakfast but with even more cholesterol.
On to Glasgow and parked up at the hotel. The hotel was reasonably cheap and just across the river from the financial district, somewhere I wouldnt even have stopped the car 15 years ago when I used to frequent the place, never mind walk alone, day or night.
Oh how Glasgow has changed, I thought as I walked across the hotel car park, then again maybe not as I saw clothes and broke open suitcases strewn about the hedges outside the hotel. I thought Id just go back and recheck nothing could be seen in the car.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur to be honest, that fear of being recognised by relatives of the previous ‘next ex-mrs fox’ was tempered by that ‘Im too tired to give a shit’ feeling. That and the continuous drizzle reinforced my record of never being in Glasgow when the sun shines. If indeed it ever does shine on it. Any wonder Ive long thought of Glasgow as a dirty dreary hole of a place.
3 days in Glasgow in the rain now seemed like an eternity (unlike the last 3 days in the rain in Vancouver but again more later).
Photographically very poor so the best idea was to wait until check in, get back to the hotel and get some sleep and see if the mood changes with a good nights rest.
It didnt… well not really.
Rain was heavier in the morning but it did clear up in the afternoon and the sun even came out at times. What a difference it made, lightened the mood and gave me the opportunity to walk around the city centre in the redeveloped areas.
Im bring unfair on Glasgow, yes I still think its a dirty hole but like Belfast, like Liverpool, its a victorian industrial city and you have to expect that. Its not an Edinburgh or Rome or Paris and you cant expect that, but like Belfast, Liverpool etc its the people that really make the city. People have time to talk and will generally help out strangers. Thats not to say the city doesnt have its share of problems, like every big city but people will share a laugh and take an interest. Give me that over beautiful sites every time.
That night I did something which wasnt even conceivable the last time I regularly visited Glasgow. I set out at night with tripod to go down and take some photos by the river Clyde. 15 years ago walking along the river through the Gorbals and Govan would have been a death sentence back then, only marginally less so now. A lot of the area has been redeveloped including some private areas which restrict access to the river walkway. Not that that would put me off but I have to apologise to the lovely young lady lying on her sofa in her pyjamas eating ice cream when I just walked past her window. Now I have to elaborate on that a bit, I hadnt just walked past her window but stalked past it. I had noticed as I left the hotel (other than being followed by the biggest urban fox I had ever seen) that people crossed the road before coming up to me. I didnt pay it much attention until I caught a glimpse of myself in the previously mentioned young ladys window. Black combat boots, black combat trousers, puffa bomber jacket (black), black stealth rucksack and carrying a tripod bag which the way I had the strap looked more like a rifle bag. I dont think I need to add in the black hat and gloves. Im sure shes stopped screaming by now…
The only thing that would have rescued the situation was probably a box of milk tray.
Expecting sirens, helicopter searchlights and a full armed response team at any minute I thought Id better just get a few photos and get out of there… just as they turned a lot of the lights out. Brilliant!
The next morning I saw something Id never seen before, Glasgow in full sunshine, so it was a bit of a mad scramble to drive around and get as many photos as I could in the time left before driving North to Glencoe. It does look a very different city in sunshine but I think the tourism board still have their work cut out for them. It has changed significantly with more upmarket shopping, good range of galleries and theatres but I think they are still being sold short by pitching themselves as 2nd only to London in terms of x or y. So why go to Glasgow, if London isnt full?
As usual, on the drive North the words of my good mate Peter were ringing in my head ‘lets get the fuck out of dodge’.
I drove up loch lomond and was meeting a friend in Fortwilliam before a night in Glencoe and then back to Fortwilliam. In all the time Id spent in Scotland previously, Id never really spent any time in what I now refer to as ‘real Scotland’, the highlands. Id been to Loch Lomond for an afternoon once and briefly drove through Glencoe on the way to one night on the Isle of Skye so what a missed opportunity.
I think somewhere on the road past Loch Lomond, my love affair with Scotland began…
I spent the night drinking with an old friend in Fortwilliam, the rest of the night is a haze. We then moved to the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe and realised that Id seen the place before on a lot of tv programmes. The guys had picked it for the stag night because they were going to go on a hike around Glencoe to work up a thirst. My hiking days are long gone so I had a couple of hours to drive around the Glen and get some photos. It was one of those mad days where the sun split the trees then there was a snow blizzard then rain and then sunshine again. Magical!
The Inn is famous because it is near the site of the Glencoe massacre where the British led by Campbells massacred 38 of the MacDonald clan who had accepted them in and gave them hospitality. All to do with allegiance to the new king or lack of it, although as usual miscommunication and inter clan rivalry played more of part than any plan or design. The entrance to the inn still has a ‘No hawkers or Campbells’ sign.
The bar apparently has a selection of over 200 scotch whiskeys. I dont think I went through them all but bearing in mind I went to bed that night with the light on so that when I did open my eyes I could focus on something and stop the room spinning. I wish I could say I dont remember a lot of the night but I do remember promising my friend I was there for him on his stag night before escorting two ladies from Liverpool off the premises with not so much as a backward glance.
I could leave the story there but as usual there is more to the story. Thinking I was on to a sure thing I made the fatal mistake of asking ‘how do you know each other?’. The straight out of a bad porno film line came back ‘shes my daughter’. Now, not that Im familiar with porno films you understand but Im told that usually leads to exploits that for me anyway would induce a number of muscle strains, ligament tears and perhaps the possibility of a light bone fracture. In this particular instance it was more like that needle scraping across the record moment when everything goes silent. Better rejoin the guys in the bar then.
The next day is a bit of a blur as I returned to the same hotel in Fortwilliam Id left the previous morning. They didnt recognise me returning but to be fair by this stage I was a pale shadow of my former self.
The next day I took the opportunity to visit an old photographer friend down near Oban. He lives in a Castle. No really, he does. On the phone the driving directions were, turn left at the castle, go through the archway of the courtyard and park next to the stables, I’ll meet you there and we can go out for a tour of the estate in the landrover…
..I hate him.
That night it was off to Stirling and a walk round the old city before retiring to the bar to befriend some chinese students watching a champions league football match. Weird.
I like Stirling, Id actually been to a wedding in the castle a couple of years ago. A really posh do with a lot of society type folk at the table I was at. No I was invited, I didnt just sneak in. During the meal one of the gentlemen at the table asked why I wasnt wearing a kilt. Who would have guessed that not being Scottish wasnt a valid enough excuse! Looking back years later I sort of see the point, it would have been good, more getting into the spirit of the thing to get kilted up. So would I be wearing a dress to the wedding in August, hell no!
After the meal at the wedding another gent remarked on how good the champagne was. I said it wasnt champagne it was sparkling chardonnay. It was another one of those needle across the record moments, with noone more incredulous than my date for the night, who just stared at me with a mixture of ‘what the f*** and shut the f*** up’ looks that women learn in primary school. I of course took it a step further, tasted the wine and said ‘If I had to guess it would be 1991 or 1992′. So someone decided to call my bluff and call the waiter over and show him the bottle. The bottle was unwrapped and to everyones surprise it was sparking chardonnay 1992. Silence. I didnt even gloat.
Later that evening my date did say she was impressed but knew I must have had some sort of angle. Maybe she knew me quite well after all. After some bullshit about how you can tell the difference by the size of the bubbles, I said it also helps if you take a nosey wander through the castle and see them unloading the crates from the van!
Back to present time and it was time to go home, well it wasnt really but I decided not to wait for the late ferry home and race for the early evening one. Certainly sir but that would be an extra 50 quid. Hmmm let me think about that, 7 hours in Cairnryan or 50 quid. Shit, 150 quid would still have been a bargain!
So my first extended trip to Scotland in over 5 years had come to an end, I still dont like Glasgow and probably wont be back, but I exorcised some demons there and now have neutral rather than bad memories of the place and I’ll take that all day long. What this did introduce me to was the Scottish Highlands, a harsh, bleak, remote environment which is a truly magical place, filled with friendly welcoming people. Its a beautiful place to spend any amount of time and if you can manage to spend time with magical people there, theres very few better places on earth.
It had been almost 14 years since I last stayed in London. Well not strictly true I had spent a few nights in London since then but part of a medivac journey doesnt really count
London is one of those places I love to visit but would hate to live there. 16 years ago I spent about 4 months working in the west end of London. It involved working there 5 days a week and returning home to weekends which really meant getting in late on a Friday night, doing the washing and drying clothes on the Saturday and then packing for a Sunday night flight to be at my desk for 9am on the Monday. Not much of a life really and sounded a lot more glamourous than it actually was. After a month or so I tried to work 12 hour days monday to weds so I could get home earlier and when the offer of a permanent job came, I was never so glad to turn a job down in my life. Yes I spent time in some great hotels and got the opportunity to eat in some great restaurants but after a while all you want to do is go back to your hotel room and get room service and watch tv.
So I spent some time away from London but would always get over sometime during December, if for nothing else than to take a wander round Harrods and splash out a little.
Id organised this trip to go over and do some quick coffee meetings with some of my London clients. Its odd but I worked for a client in London for over 4 years and it was a good relationship with the client but we never met once in that period and I realised that this was the norm with my current clients so thought Id make an effort to press the flesh. I know I was probably asking too much to get the chance to go round and do some stock photos as it would be totally weather dependent and booked a month in advance it was pretty much a see how it is when you get there trip. If all else failed I’d go to a few exhibitions and I might even do some tourist stuff.
The way the flights worked out Id arrive after dark in London and had pretty much the first evening to myself. The question was then do I take in a show, go for a wander, go to the cinema, veg out in the hotel or… …well to cut a long story short I ended up at Chelsea for a champions league game. A great chance to get some quick street food which looking back on it I wish I’d missed. Not long after returning from Hong Kong where the street food there had sort of spoiled me So when I couldnt decide if the bap had more bread than the sausage I knew Id made the wrong choice!
Still the game was a good result for Chelsea and when the great Fernando Torres was introduced at 80 odd minutes it was time for me to leave and get a quick train home. Turned out to be a great move on my part, with delays, breakdowns and so on it took over an hour to get across London. How on earth are they going to hold the Olympics?
When I worked in London one of my bosses was one of those typical London bosses, when he invites you out for Lunch, it is of the liquid variety. I learned this to my cost one Friday afternoon when I went out with him and a load of the senior managers. After 4 pints I couldnt remember what my name was but I do remember the whole pub laughing when I kept saying ‘no seriously lads, what are we having to eat’. I have no idea how I ended up back in Belfast that evening. The guys had always said that if I was ever in London looking a pint at 6am that I should get myself down to Smithfield Market. Under the market theres a pub called the cock and as long as you order breakfast you can get drink as well. Now as a light drinker the pint didnt really interest me but rather the opportunity to get a fryup that would choke a horse and be made up of every meat under the sun. I waited 14 years for that fry and can I say it was worth the wait. I would thoroughly recommend it and get yourself down to the Smithfield Meat Market (London City Markets) if you ever get a chance. If you are a social networking afficionado (I occasionally use twitter and use facebook for family and friends) then please dont send a message to everyone you know saying that you are enjoying a breakfast at the cock. Innocent enough until some so called friends leave the ‘breakfast at’ part out of their requoting. Sigh!
Seeing as it was such a ridiculous time in the am and the sun was just coming up I headed down over the river for some early morning city views. Going past St Pauls I got a first glimpse of the Occupy London protest and the ‘ring of steel’ around the London Stock Exchange. Lets be honest I remember some of the rings of steel thrown up here in Northern Ireland,so a few crash barriers and fat lads in dayglo jackets doesnt constitute a ring of steel London.
I do have to say it was an absolutely beautiful morning and whilst cold was probably one of the best Ive ever seen there. I would have mostly stayed there in the summer when at times the heat is oppressive, I remember coming out of an air conditioned office one day for lunch only to stay in the revolving door and go and get crisps and cola from the vending machine.
I spent most of the morning wandering in and around the City hoping to set upon some bankers and give them what for but they must have all been sitting in their office, banking, or something like that.
I had a fair idea of the types of photos I wanted so took a wander up around Westminster and in and around Whitehall. It was a good opportunity to try out some of the travel technology Id first tried at my path to enlightenment in Hong Kong. I had downloaded a london transport app, a tube map, walking and guided tour apps and was using google maps to navigate. Despite having an engineering degree and a masters in electronics this felt very weird. Id always travelled everywhere with a map and found it strange to be standing in Trafalgar Square and then finding the nearest highest ranked pub lunch within 100 yards. Sure enough my facebook and tripadvisor friends didnt let me down and I ended up in the excellent porter house just off covent garden. Of course only after Id sat down and ordered did I realise it was an Irish pub and just across the street from Rules where Id unsuccessfully tried to book a lunch.
I then made almost a fatal mistake, I decided to go for wander up round Regent Street and then Oxford Street in late evening a couple of weeks before Christmas. Only the previous weekend the police had closed Oxford Street because there were just too many people in it for safety.
Im sure it was nowhere near that now but John Lewis is an odd place to sit and have your dinner, like a bad comedy sketch Id tried to get in somewhere to sit down and made the mistake of trying to navigate through shops when I found myself outside the John Lewis Cafe. With the glories of trip planners, sat nav, tube maps I worked out that it would be a hundred yard dash to Regent Street tube station and then only one change to my hotel.
Ok so I’ll admit it Im chicken and I bottled out and went back to the hotel to watch the football on tv. Theres only so many shopping crowds you can brave before it takes its toll and if its this bad now, whats it going to be like come the 2012 Olympics?
I really have to get better at this whole blog thing and not just post when Im travelling. Incidently Im off today to the beautiful (when it doesnt rain) west coast to do a wedding later in the week for a friend. My usual excuse applies in that I have been busy, honestly I have been, but in case the tax man is reading, business is desperate! Its now the end of my wedding season and yes I do do weddings but this weeks is the last one I have booked. Im not really interested in being a wedding photographer per se, rather a photographer who occasionally does weddings. Its the photography that interests me and although I was asked by a local venue to be official photographer for the site the idea of going to the same place taking similar pictures week after week just fills me with dread. I love hearing peoples stories and yes I suppose I am a romantic at heart but I see the photos telling the story of the people, as well as the day. I suppose its hard to explain but then again thats why I only do a few per year and only if I really really want to tell the peoples stories. That might come across as arrogant (would fit in with the wedding photographers rightly) but my view is that this is my job, I have to enjoy my job and if I enjoy it that comes across in my photos. I tell that often enough to my students so I’d be a bit hypocritical if I didnt practise that myself. So other than weddings Ive been doing a fair bit of dance photography. As with the weddings I’d love to show you the pictures but they arent stock images so arent for sale, plus the dance photos are embargoed until the performances and brochure materials get produced so I’ll save that for a later blog.
I’d love to say I’d been out on the boat, fishing away in the lovely weather we have had but I’d be lying on both counts. The weather has been terrible and the boats engine broke down. Thankfully the engine went as we were casting off so no harm done other than 3 weeks waiting for parts to come from America that didnt work! I then couldnt get the boat in for repair due to bad weather and only having the backup engine to get the boat from the marina to the harbour ramp. Eventually I got one evening when I thought it was calm enough to get the boat in and you know when you utter something incredibly stupid and know you will live to regret it? Well when asked how I would get the boat in I replied ‘by being assertive’. Well let me tell you no amount of bravado or assertiveness can make an 18 foot boat go into a 15 knot headwind with a 4hp backup engine. Its at this point you know bringing a fresh battery for the emergency VHF was a good idea and that you hope the liquid running down the back of your legs is only sweat. All was well though and I now have an expensive driveway ornament until work calms down a bit and I get the chance to work on it. I do have an engine manual but following some of the steps would have required a wetsuit and flippers whilst still in the marina. It reminds me of the time I replaced the engine in my old fiesta car. Followed the haynes manual to the letter through all 200 steps of engine removal, seal and gasket replacement and putting back in again. Step 201 of course had the ‘note – remember to put the flange between the engine and gearbox correctly’. Oh that would be the thing left lying on the floor there. 399 steps to go…
Speaking of car repairs, I got the Alfa up and running again….
In the very few times it hasnt been pishing out of the heavens Ive also managed to get out and get some stock photography work done. Bit unfortunate for this whole radharcimages project that Ive had 20 days of good weather in 2 years and been working for clients for most of them! The Irish side of the project is well and truely stalled and this is the primary reason.
Ive more usuable images from USA/Canada in a month than the whole of Ireland in probably the last year. Still there should be some good crisp clear winter days to get some work done but with limited daylight it might not be economically viable for more than a full days journey.
I eventually got all my Canada/US travel images edited, captioned and uploaded so now Im looking for a new project so I’ll be off on my travels again, this time I’m going back to Hong Kong for a week. Ive been there twice before. Once before the British handover and again the year later. Two completely different trips but not for handover reasons. The first time I went for a week and I had booked the trip with my then girlfriend. Of course by the time we came to go on the trip we werent boyfriend/girlfriend any more. I dont really need to explain too much more, do I?
The following year I went out there with two mates for the weekend. Yes the weekend – £250 quid flights and accomodation from Belfast, out on Thurs night, back on Tues. We drank the whole flight there… I dont really need to explain too much more, do I? I’ll go into that trip more when I cover the next one but I must have been drunk the whole time as my house is full of chinese furniture!
Whilst the total rainfall in Hong Kong for November is about the same as the total rainfall in my garden this morning, I have been thinking about getting the place ready for winter. Whilst out doing some stock photos of barley crops I got talking to some farmers who say we are in for some snowfall later in October. So Im prepared this time with the snow shovel, snow chains, gloves, hat, spare clothes, etc for all those car emergencies, or alternatively I’ll just light a coal fire, crack open the bushmills and just look out the window.
Well it has been over a month since I got home and well over a month since my last blog post. When I wrote the last blog post I was still sitting in Canada, pretty much packing up and ready to get the flight home. Did I say ready? Well prepared to get the flight home is more appropriate.
Its hard to believe its been a month already, just as it was hard to beleive a month traveling had gone by. In the last few weeks Ive been catching up with my other photo work, getting back in touch with students, starting to wade through the thousands of images to be edited, captioned and uploaded to various sites and sitting watching the rain bounce off the windows.
Its been a tough couple of weeks, not just from the work perspective and the fitting it all in whilst trying to get a house and everything back to normal. The boring mundane ordering of heating oil and cutting the grass dont quite compare to flying over nigara falls in the helicopter but they have to be done.
Its also been a wrench leaving my friends, its not that I dont have good friends here but there is something about traveling together that bonds people. I have 3 close friends that I have traveled the world with and I remember the first day they met, it was down in dublin airport and none of them had met before. I had traveled with them all individually but not as a group so hadnt even considered the dynamics. Our first task as a unit was to report all our luggage missing on arrival so it was a baptism of fire. There is something about the bonds of friendship made whilst traveling that go beyond normal friendship and I have that in abundance now with my friends here, in Canada and in South America.
People have asked what the highlight of the trip was, of course there are loads of things I could mention and already have in the blog but like my trip to South America there is one thing that stands out for me, the people I travelled with and the people I met. Whilst I didnt quite need emergency room treatment as in Buenos Aires, I was treated like a friends by strangers and welcomed into the family by people who didnt need to do that.
Oh but here, did I mention we got buzzed by a crop duster in North Dakota?
With the recent events in London and indeed Belfast it is sometimes easy to draw the conclusion that the world is going to hell and in a bloody quick manner but when someone in nowheresville Iowa comes over to your table and asks how you are and what you are doing there and recommends the platter then its not that bad. When you are invited to a family barbecue even though you arent part of the family but feel like it by the end of the evening then it shows there are more good people than bad in the world.
But Im not knocking the sales of water cannon photos or soldiers on the streets.
It was my first trip to Canada and definitely wont be the last, I felt at home there, I felt as though it was the same as here only different. Ive been so taken with the place I spent the first couple of weeks looking at visa regulations and work permits and the like. There is a danger that the grass is always greener and boy if I complain about the winters here then…
…well you get the point.
I have always been a traveler, even when I didnt know it, its not really about the start or the end or even the bit in the middle, its about the journey as a whole, its not so much about what you see but how it affects you and what you do about it afterwards. Its about meeting people and seeing that we are pretty much the same the world over, we want to be fed and a roof over our head and if we can all have a laugh in the process, so much the better. The world financial system can go down the toilet but as long as you can put food on the table, thats pretty much all that should matter.
I am back to earth with a bump here but it is home and always will be home, I missed the soft grass and the soft rain (ok Ive had enough of that already) and sitting out on the lough fishing as the sun goes down is now an experience having met someone who has never seen the sea. Not to mention the freshly caught mackerel barbequed with friends.
Im waxing lyrical about the trip and the place but I’ll bring it back to the people, it would not have been half as much fun without the old and new friends on the trip and I think if we’d sat in the house for a month it would have been equally as enjoyable.
Just saying thank you isnt really enough, I am a wee boy from the Falls Road in Belfast, I should never have seen the things Ive seen (good and bad) and would never have imagined Id have been to the places I only ever read about or saw on a wee small black and white portable tv as a kid. That means its all an experience, its all good (even the bad bits).
Life is not a rehearsal so even if its just lying on the grass, sitting out in the rain, go and do something you havent done before, say yes to something you would normally say no to and see what happens along the way.
So thanks to everyone I met in the US/Canada, its been emotional Its also been great craic and would I do it again – 4 weeks ago I’d probably have said no, now I’ll say maybe, in 4 weeks time I’ll probably have a bag packed.
After Ive got the rest of the photos edited of course…. ..better get back to work and pull a few all nighters!
The time on this trip is really flying in, Canada Day marked the end of my third week on the road and also the start of my final week away. Its an odd sort of feeling as Canada has proved so far to be the same only different. What I mean is that there are a lot of familiar things yet they can all be done differently. Yet again I find out that companies I thought were Belfast/NI only are global – my first incarnation of this was when I was a kid and was surprised to see England had Woolworth shops!
The trip has taken a lot out of me, the rest days are becoming more frequent and we are back in the land of the mosquito bites!
Trying to learn from my experiences in Argentina I went down to the Saskatoon Jazz Festival with enough chemicals to mark me out as a target for WMD inspectors. Saskatoon is a great place but Ive only seen it in the summer and trust me I probably wouldnt want to see it in winter. Its like the place hibernates for 6 months of the year then explodes into colour, sound, taste and everything else that has been hidden away. The whole town seems to want to experience all life has to offer before the Winter sets in again. It makes it an interesting and lively place. Its where my official residence is during my stay in Canada (in case the border officials are reading) but the place Ive probably spent the least time in.
All too soon we would have to leave again for the Winnipeg folk festival for the guts of a week although we did get to see Canada Day out in the park and afterwards with friends and family.
Having worked for a Canadian company in a previous life I did know about Canada Day so was interested to see how people celebrated it. I had a hog in a bap and an elephants ear. All quite traditional so Im told.
As was the barbecue in a bag. It looked revolting, you open a packet of doritos (silver foil bag naturally – other nacho chips may be available) and pour in some meat and cheese and add a spoon. You then add in some hot sauce which apparently goes with everything and then just shovel it into your gub as you walk around. Im sure somebody somewhere will have a proper description of how to serve and eat but thats it in a nutshell.
I had once spent Independence Day in the USA, I went to Disneyworld where a hurricane hit. It was almost empty apart from a few kids who had bought bodyboard type things and were then surfing down main street. I then made the mistake of going to watch the film Independence Day on Independence Day, in America. A lot less laughing during the film than when I saw it again back home but definitely more whooping and hollering. A hell of a lot more calls of ‘Go Marines’ and ‘USA, USA, USA’ etc. To be honest after the film I wanted to get the hell away from there before they got out into the car park and started shooting up into the sky.
We had briefly considered packing up the gear from the Diefenbacker park stage and just hitting the road for the 9 hour drive to Winnipeg but saw sense and planned to get up early in the morning and head East. We had difficulty with the early in the morning bit as well.
I once turned down a trip to Canada as the way work schedule worked out I would have to drive pretty much across country from Calgary to Toronto and figured that would take 2 weeks and I only had 10 days. The way we have been driving, it would have been about 2 days! The roads here have to be driven to be believed. Long, straight, flat and bugger all people here. The danger would be falling asleep so it was 9 hours of almost arse numbing tedium to Winnipeg interspersed with splash and dash stops, sometimes petrol as well and of course, food.
The air around Winnipeg was full of the most beautiful dragonflies I had ever seen. These were the full size, real deal. Clouds of them shimmering blue in the lovely warm evening light.
Pity we were going through said clouds at about 80mph.
Winnipeg has the reputation of being one of the most dangerous cities in Canada. Although thats all relative and there are dangerous spots. One thing I would say though is that if Id only seen Toronto and Winnipeg on this trip Id probably have classified Canada as been there and done that. I now see why a lot of the city dwellers aspire to a prairie life and call it the real Canada. Im very lucky to have experienced this and hope to do so again and maybe travel up North and or into the Rockies on the next trip.
Back to Winnipeg, we got in at a late hour and as I hadnt booked the accommodation I didnt know what I was in for. We were all put in a student house belonging to the University of Winnipeg. Not too bad as accommodation goes if you ignore the smoke alarms sitting on the chair, the mousetraps in the corner of the room, the no air conditioning, 40 odd degree heat and the one working shower between 10 rooms carry on. OK on the second day we had two working showers.
So important wee travelling tip, if staying in a hostel/campsite whatever get your shower at night. Another caveat to that, dont do what I did in a Geneva campsite by paying for a shower token, turning the shower on, getting the temperature just right, turning the shower off, getting bollock naked then jumping in and turning what can only be described as skin stripping ice old water. Sometimes the dont waste water environmental message has to be overlooked!
One other issue with the festival was that no photos during the workshops so I was again free to wander about the place during the day.
The pancake house down in the Forks area was highly recommended so we went down for breakfast on the Sunday morning. Id highly recommend it if you are there
At this point I was left on my own and would like to apologise profusely to the city and people of Belfast Northern Ireland. I ranted earlier about how nothing is open in Belfast on a sunday but Winnipeg this sunday morning made Belfast look like Metropolis. To be fair though it was the sunday of the Canada Day weekend and there was no-one here. And when I say no-one I really mean no-one, I felt like I was Will Smith in I Am Legend at times, wandering around with nobody else here. Canada is closed, come back tomorrow.
As usual when we arrived the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky, now its dull and overcast and useless for tourist type photos. Thats been the problem this whole trip, what I had planned to do and what I actually have done have never overlapped. I thought climate change was only an issue with Northern Ireland ‘summers’, I see its now a reality everywhere.
So wandering round with only dull skies to photograph I just happened to walk past the Winnipeg Goldeneyes baseball ground so thought Id take a look in. Id always wanted to see a live baseball game but never had the opportunity. Similarly with NBA (the previous lockout was on when I had the chance) and the NFL (teams playing away). This time I was 20 mins late but because of the rain which hadnt started falling yet, the game was delayed. Its funny you laugh when you hear that nobody plays here in the rain, thats because in Ireland we get lovely light soft rain most of the time, today in July there were thunderstorms with hailstones the size of marbles. Ok maybe the rain is slightly different here.
Which was much in evidence due to the flooding mentioned earlier in the trip and even here where the two rivers meet the steps just went down into brown muddy fast flowing rivers and some 10 feet above the riverside walkway.
I paid my 10 bucks and rushed up to my seat to get the hot dog that seems to go with ballgames.
Then the rain came down, and my God did it rain. An hour later we were ready to start. An hour after that I realised we had started. An hour after that when the blue skies returned I thought my legs would never work again.
Dont get me wrong, for 10 bucks you can sit all day in the sun, drink cold beer, eat hot dogs and fill in stat sheets that look like world cup wall planners but its definitely up there with cricket in the arse numbingly tedious sports category.
2 hours in and we were a third the way through. I love to get a bargain and on an hourly rate this would be hard to beat but only 4 runs had been scored. I decided Id seen enough baseball when I yearned for the 9 hour driving tedium! Afterwards in the next 3 hours between the two teams they managed to score another run. This wasnt Major League Baseball and perhaps Im being a little unfair as with a few mates and a few beers or the kids and a picnic it wouldnt be a bad day out but I think I’ve been there and done that for baseball.
The weather had cleared up so I wandered back to the house taking a few tourism type photos on the way back. With the soaking I got from sitting down on the ball park seats, it was easy to hide the sweat stains in the arse of my shorts in 35C heat. Pity it took me 3 hours and 2 coffee shops to get back to the house and they had dry seats. Note to self to ditch the light grey shorts which have dark grey patches looking like Id pissed myself every time the temperature goes above 25C.
I was a bit of a sorry state the next day, Id obviously been bitten by mosquitos the day before at some point and my leg had taken a bad reaction to a couple of the bites. One in particular had grown to a blister about an inch in diameter and definitely needed treatment. I decided it would be another rest day so a bit of shopping in and around the house and some tidying up some loose ends from home on the net. It was back to my good mate Tim Hortons place for breakfast and I thought Id call into the local drug store for some cotton wool etc to dress the blister once Id burst it.
As usual I picked the line with the person who couldnt understand what the 3 for 2 offer meant, the person with the stuff with no barcodes on it, the person who couldnt remember their debit card pin and the old lady with 14 tins of catfood and a huge bag of margarita mix. No seriously you couldnt make this shit up.
All I had was a 99 cent bag of cotton wool balls FFS. My mood wasnt lightened when the girl on the till asked if I was part of the over 55 discount scheme. I suppose I should have said yes and got my discount but it took all my strength to just say the word ‘No’ and not try to beat her to death with my cotton wool balls.
At least the nuclear alert status had been removed and the people had returned to the streets, as had the heat and the thunderstorms so I spent the rest of the day wondering if I could move rooms and just put me and my stuff in the massive fridges in the kitchen. They were only filled with beer and pizza anyway!
If Im totally honest I dont do mornings. Well I’ll rephrase that, I dont do mornings without a strong coffee. Ive sort of detoxed on this trip slightly as most of the coffee on this trip could only be classified as a cup of hot brown. So being back in Canada and with Tim Hortons so close I thought Id go out and get breakfast there. We were staying across the road from the University of Winnipeg and as the storms had cleared and the old building was beautifully lit this morning I thought I’d go take a pic of it and then cross the road to my mate Tims for breakfast.
So took the photos, looked right, no traffic, took half a step forward and the wind from the bus wing mirror racing past blew my sunglasses down my nose. Id made it almost a month being careful to look both ways to be almost wiped out a couple of days before coming home. It really was a wake up call in all senses of the phrase. Go and sit down, have a coffee and just wait until you are more alert (which could really take a while).
If you havent travelled with this intensity before its one of the signs that you either rest up for a week or go home. Ive well documented my issues with my bad leg and at times you just have to sit down or take time out as you can be a danger to yourself. Even when I was fit and healthy – I would add good looking but thats a lie, I only had surgery on my leg, not my face there were times you had to just rest up. Ive done the being operated on away from home thing and its not pleasant, it wasnt pleasant for me and it wasnt fair on the people with me. So scrap the plans for spending the day and night taking photos and just see where the day takes me.
Well first of all it took me to Tim Hortons…
Not far away from the University is the Manitoba Legislature building, its a nice enough building with nice grounds from the outside but last night Id stayed up with a couple of the local musicians who were of French Canadian origin who filled me in on a bit of the history of the area and told me to go check it out and the grounds.
I wandered into the building and was met by two huge security guards armed to the teeth and wearing flak jackets. First thought was ‘well thats the end of the trip’ but like everyone else Ive met in Canada they were very pleasant and got me to sign in to the visitors book as I was from somewhere that had to be spelt out Just in time for the guided tour as well, plus it was cool inside and by now baking outside.
After the previous nights conversation I headed over to the French quarter and in parts it was just like walking into France. The streetnames, some of the businesses had only french names, the hotel de ville and a lot of other stuff. Canada so far had been a mix of home, england, scotland, north america and to some extent indigenous people. Here was a whole lot of French thrown into the mix. Im beginning to like this place more and more, maybe in the French quarter I can get some great bread and nice coffee!
The guys last night had said to me to check out the grounds of the Cathedral as one of them had ancestors who were the original white settlers in Canada, French ‘Voyageurs’ who transported the furs and eventually settled here. Their graves are still marked in the graveyard
Then it was back to work taking some photos at the Folk Festival meetings. Again the people here were falling over themselves to help out, something I wish a lot of people back in Ireland and the UK would take note of.
Not a lot else happened later on, apart from a final night party and session back at the house after the show. The folk there asked if we had the like of this in Ireland – food, drink, singing, musicians.. I said we did but theres usually a casket in the middle of the room!
A great nights craic was had by all oh and I happened to sing (despite my best protestations – they were the the musicians and singers – I just had a couple) in front of a multiple JUNO winner…
…I felt her pain.
At least the following morning all the showers were fixed and so it was a 9 hour road trip back home.
Id say nothing much happened but we did make a 90 km detour just for a milkshake – not quite real rock and roll but one day we’ll do the whole entourage thing and make a point of this sort of extravagance
We had one of those ‘oh shit, cops’ moments that makes you hit the brakes even though you arent speeding…. maybe I should say, maybe if you werent just doing a bit over the speed limit because you took a 90km detour just to have a milkshake. We did say 8pm for dinner didnt we? It wasnt as big a bowel relaxing moment as the off ramp in North Dakota. Nothing in my mirrors for miles then all of a sudden the rear and side view mirrors filled with white mustang flashing its lights at me. I was about to utter ‘will you look at this wa……’ when the blues and twos came on. I’ll not say my heart stopped but it wasnt far off. In the end he just wanted me out of the way, his donuts were probably on order or something to be going that speed.
Oh and a life ambition, hanging out of the window of the car, sorry if law enforcement officers are reading, I didnt really undo my seatbelt and hang out of the passenger window to take a photo of a Canadian Pacific train… What was I saying earlier about being careful when travelling?
Theres something about the 8 year old boy in you that when a train almost a mile long blows its horn and rings its bell when it sees you being a buck eejit hanging out of a window that makes it all worthwhile.
Sure where would you get it?
Its been a strange sort of week, we arrived back from the road trip just in time for band rehearsals for Wednesdays gig at the Saskatoon Jazz festival and to get the gear packed for the next road trip to the Winnipeg folk festival after Fridays performance at the Canada Day celebrations in Saskatoon. I’ll do a blog on the gigs separately after the gig photos have been approved.
On my first or second night in Saskatoon I had promised the local 4 year old kids soccer team that I would turn up for their final coaching session and do a team photo and player portraits for them. I know a couple of kids in the team and thought it would be a neat wee present for them all. Of course the pressure is on because I dont like to promise anything to kids but not deliver and they are usually some of the fiercest critics as they arent afraid to say what they think.
The evening went well but still managed to get myself bit again by the mosquitos – seems to be habit forming on recent trips for me. I cant publish the kids photos for obvious reasons, I’d love to but its just not the done thing but I thought I’d mention them in the blog regardless.
The following day was a completely different ball game, literally.
I got a rare opportunity to photograph a pre season training session for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Id not really heard of them before I arrived here but you cant miss them when you are here, stores everywhere, merchandise everywhere, flags, banners, slogans, wall to wall green and white. They are third in merchandising sales of any team in Canada which in a hockey mad country says a lot.
The Roughriders are the CFL team for the province, thats the Canadian version of American Football. A lot of the guys are ex-NFL or are poached from here for the NFL (one of their players went last year).
Its hard for me to describe but getting the opportunity to photograph from the touchline is the equivalent of some random person who doesnt know who Man U or Liverpool are being asked if they fancied photographing their big pre-season training session a couple of days before the season starts.
How could I say no?
Of course I was also there to document one of the media teams who interview the teams and produce a local television show dedicated to the riders.
It was an odd experience because I just happened to be wearing a Liverpool FC football shirt so a couple of the guys asked me about it including one Ac Milan fan. There were people in the crowd watching who would have sold their children to get to chat with the players on the pitch warming up and one said to me thats the equivalent of you walking in off the street and talking to Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford.
I was interested in a range of photos, other than some photos of local irish american football teams playing in the park and a bit of interest in NFL when I was at school (Chicago Bears if you must know), I know nothing about the sport, so really was looking for more ‘colour’ than actual sporting action.
I had a quick chat with the local newspaper photographer who thought I was over for the Royal Tour. Our music/photography tour certainly was regal but not in the way he thought. I didnt get much of rundown on the plays as they still keep the cards close to their chest with the season only a couple of days away.
The level these guys play at and the sheer size and bulk of these guys is “awesome” up close. I know that word is overused in this particular neck of the woods but to feel these guys running past, holding each other and these were teammates in practise, and the odd knock, made me think I wouldnt really like them if they were angry.
The video crews arent allowed to video the plays and the practise so I was almost knocked down in the scrum for the player interviews at the end of the session. The quarterback was interviewed and the guys openly chatted about their merchandising deals and contracts etc which was refreshing compared to some of the prima donnas in the premier league.
One of the guys who had just struck a potato chip deal (crisps) was asked if the chips were healthy. Now back home we would have got some bland crap or a pr person stepping in but the guy said they werent, they were chips, they werent meant to be healthy and everyone loved eating a bag of them. Everybody laughed and I found that so refreshing. People out in baking heat, standing around waiting for these guys who just seemed happy to talk and sharing a laugh.
The way sport should be and probably why this teams colours are everywhere and everyone loves them…
…Something a lot of professional sports teams could learn from…
…I’ll certainly be watching their results from now on.
That is all! Well not quite – would be the shortest blog post ever.
Its taken quite a while to get the archive up to the site and I’ve also included some of my old Getty editorial photo sets for info purposes – I’ll finish off uploading the older sets over the next couple of days.
The most of the Ireland archive is now online and Ive made the conscious decision not to upload some photos and come counties as I’d like more complete coverage before making them go live so the plan for the rest of the ‘summer’ is to get a lot more coverage up of places and spread out into people and festivals. Oh and local food as well
I just have to go back through all the old blog posts and update the posts with the links to the new site. The smugmug version will be turned off in a fortnight.
So have a play with the new site, register online and let me know what you think. The main function at the minute is an online search with the ability to supply clients lightboxes of images I think they are interested in, as well as highlighting current image sets.
I’ll announce and describe the image sets here on the blog.
The website currently contains an archive of over 16k images and is in the process of google indexing every one of them so might be a bit slow whilst all that is getting done.
Normal lengthy blog service will soon be resumed!