Friday, 31 May 2013

The photography is still going strong. I feel like I'm improving, although at times I feel like I'm getting over-excited when I see something I really want to capture. I forget to check settings and get all clumsy. Anyway, it's a learning process that I am enjoying immensely, especially when I continue to get better and better feedback and more and more likes on my facebook and flickr pages. It helps to be in a place like East Fife, with its picturesque beaches and harbours.

Here is a link to flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmicherb70/

Here is another shot I took on Wednesday night at a little place called Elie. The sky was incredible that night.




Sunday, 19 May 2013

See See CC Photography

Now that I'm settled into my new flat overlooking the harbour of a lovely coastal town in East Fife, Scotland, I am getting back into my photography...and in quite a big way. I have bought some filters for landscape/seascape shots and have a list of lenses and other kit I would like to get. My skills are improving through a lot of reading and basically trial and error. Taking photos is a process I enjoy. There is a lot of patience required, which isn't a natural thing for me, but I guess it is teaching me to be patient. I might get only 2 or 3 decent shots from a "shoot" of 30 exposures, and then have to go through the Lightroom processing, which I quite enjoy. Some people tell me they think it's almost cheating to do stuff to photos in processing software, but I don't see it that way. Other artists like musicians use enhancements and effects to improve their work, so why can't photographers?

Anyway, as my skills are improving, people's feedback is getting more encouraging...the real reward of this hobby. It feels good when people appreciate your work. And now I have a Facebook page for my photography along with flickr and 500px profiles. Here is a link to my FB page:

https://www.facebook.com/CCPhotogr

And here are a couple of my latest images:





Thursday, 7 March 2013

Last Night in O’Malley’s


After six strange and sometimes stressful months in the Netherlands, I am now heading home again to start a new job. The new job in question is a long-term contract role based in Fife, Scotland. I will be able to get home every weekend. The money is very good, and it is a proper break into the Oil and Gas industry, which is notoriously difficult to get a foot-hold in.

I wasn’t happy in Holland. It wasn’t the place as such, although Groningen could be deadly boring on a weekend; it was the frustrations of being so close to home and only getting home once a month. I didn’t exist in a healthful way. I ate and drank to excess (what’s new?) apart from the month of January when I gave up the booze for the whole month.

One place that kept me sane was an Irish bar called O’Malley’s, which was 10 minutes’ walk from the apartment I was staying in. It did good food and had friendly staff who were only too willing to listen to my maudlin nonsense…as long as I kept ordering drinks, I guess. To be fair, it wasn’t like that. The guys seemed to be genuinely nice and interested in my life, and told me about theirs too.

Anyway, last night was my last night in Holland. On the previous night I’d had a meal and drinks with the few colleagues with whom I’d developed any kind of relationship. Such is the lot of the consultancy man; shoved in an archive room with your flatulent co-worker and left to get one with it (most of the time).  Still, it was fine.

Last night I went to my regular haunt full of good intentions. I would have a couple of drinks then go back to the flat and chill. I didn’t really fancy travelling with a hangover. Even though the Wednesday open-mic night was on, I just wanted to have a couple and get home for an early night. I was actually really tired.
I eventually staggered home at 1.30am.

My first mistake was striking up a conversation with two chaps at the bar who were in town for one night. One was Dutch, the other was from Blackburn. We ended up shooting the shit for a couple of hours, and by that time I’d had more than a couple and the open-mic organiser was suddenly set up. What the hell, I thought, I’ll sing one song. My usual party piece, “One”, by U2.

The next mistake was talking to a lively Dutch girl and her Spanish friend. The Dutch girl wanted to sing something and we found a song we both liked and that I sort of knew how to play on guitar called “I Follow Rivers”, which is actually by some Polish dance act but has been covered brilliantly by a Belgian trio called Triggerfinger. We searched on our phones for chords and lyrics, hoping that we could read the tiny print. As it happened, it worked OK. Before long we were doing another song, “Valerie”, by the Zutons. The girl sang it a-la Amy Winehouse.

Then there was the Germans. A group of young, bubbly Germans arrived. One had a banjo.  He started playing along with whoever was on guitar. Another Dutch girl with a stunning voice got up and sang a few Mumford and Sons numbers. The place was rocking. The man from Blackburn left and so did the Amy Winehouse girl. I stayed, enjoying myself immensely. I alternated drinks, going for an orange juice between the whiskies. It kept me from getting too drunk. I had found some reserves of energy from somewhere.

Next thing I knew I was sitting on a drum box. They have one of them every time and usually a Dutch guy sits on it and plays away. He wasn’t there this time, so I took it upon myself to provide some percussion. I think I acquitted myself quite well; using one hand to produce a bass drum beat in the middle of the front panel and the other to hit the top edge, which gave a rattling snare drum sound. I only lost the beat a few times, I think. Between songs I notice my hands were sore, and had to keep moving myself back on the box to avoid hitting my bollocks with the snare hand.

The German banjo player took charge and I shared a mic with a young, spiky-haired lad who seemed to have a similar sense of humour to me. We sang several Beatles tunes and God knows what else. My voice started to pack in. There was another rendition of the Mumford song with the good singer girl, this time I was providing the drum track. We rocked that joint. Seriously, people all around were enjoying it, not just the musicians who came together without knowing each other and produced such a great sound. I was brought drinks by a few people, including a young, permanently-smiling German who was about half my age. He seemed genuinely in awe when I told him I’d lived in Berlin when the wall was still standing.

And then, just after 1am, it was all over. A last blast of a quirky song about a Lemon Tree finished the night and the crowds dispersed. I was the last customer to leave, giving the two barmen, Tamas and Sebastian, big bear hugs before wandering into the night. I walked through quiet, cold streets, wondering how I’d ended up having one of those off-the-cuff but completely wonderful nights. I’d cut loose, given voice again to the frustrated artist that won’t let me settle for humdrum. I will remember it for a long, long time.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Freeeeeeeeeedom!

Today I will make the final payment to HSBC in Dubai and after five years of worry, stress and bullshit I will be free. Just 9 months ago I was in a police cell in Dubai, wondering how I was ever going to be rid of the horrible debt I'd stupidly and naively got myself into, but I guess it did me a favour ultimately. I had no choice but to accept the new payment terms imposed on me, so I signed the security cheque through the bars and was let out to go on my merry way. As ever, there were dodgy moments when I thought I'd screw things up again, but I kept going and have got myself over that finish line.

Oh, sweet relief! I'm actually lost for words for once. And also very, very tired.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Winner!

A few weeks ago I posted a photo on the Photography For Beginners website as an entry into their Indoor Photography Challenge. It was one of my personal favourites, something I'd taken in a moment of "inspiration" using just a flower, a pink wall in my daughter's bedroom and the pink fairy lights on said wall.



Well today I received an e-mail telling me I'd won the contest! How cool is that?

http://photoforbeginners.com/competitions/62/indoor_projects_competition

I'm not sure if it's going to be printed in the magazine, but that would be even cooler, Daddy-o!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Achtung Gadgie - Return to the Divided City

So it was Friday night, I was in the Aussie Bar which is next to the Irish Bar, drinking a rusty nail or two...and I just didn't know what I was going to do with myself for the weekend. I chatted with the barmen about this and that. The South African chap (for some reason I can't remember) mentioned that it was only about a 5 hour drive to Berlin.

Really? Only 5 hours? I didn't think it was that close.

The seed of an idea planted itself in my head. I have lived in Berlin, albeit many, many years ago (late '70s to early '80s), and haven't been back since the wall came down. I have wanted to go back and see it, but have never had the chance or got round to it. So why not now? If I left early enough in the morning, I'd be there by lunchtime and could come back Sunday evening. I did a quick check on a hotel website and found some really good deals. The seed was now a tree, and I was pretty much decided. I was going.

The drive there was horrendous. I had a map and my blackberry with google maps on it, but still got lost around Bremen, and the weather was awful. It rained constantly all the way. It took me more like 7 hours, and I was done in when I got to the hotel at about 4pm. The hotel was situated about 20km south east of the city centre. I decided not to go in that night, instead having a nice meal and a couple of drinks. I would get up early, head into the city and then drive back.

So that's what I did. It was cloudy and cold in the morning, but not raining. I drove in towards Alexanderplatz, which was pretty much a straight-line drive. I passed mile upon mile of communist-era buildings such as apartment blocks and office blocks, all square and uniform. I was in what used to be East Berlin. For me, this was a strange feeling. Back in 1979 or whenever, as a young child/army brat, I'd lived in a part of the city that was effectively an island of West Germany in the East. We were completely surrounded by hostile forces. As a kid I wasn't really aware of the significance of it all, only knowing that my father had to jump out of bed in the dead of night every so often when a military vehicle came past our street with a megaphone-amplified voice shouting something about Rocking Horses or something. When I think about it now, it gives me the creeps.

I finally approached Alexanderplatz along Karl Marx Strasse (I think), noticing the olive-on-a-stick shape of the TV Tower (or Fernsehturm in German) emerging from the clouds. I know it well; my mother has an ornamental block of glass with a miniature version of the tower etched in it. I found an underground car park and was soon on foot, walking towards Unter Den Linte in the general direction of the Brandenburg Gate. I wasn't sure how far it was, having only a small map I'd picked up at the hotel. I wondered if I'd have to take some form of transport at some point. The place was quiet, but coffee shops were open, and I stopped for a coffee and a croissant.

When I came out onto the street again there were more people around. I walked past a couple of souvenir shops and dived into one to buy a few nick-nacks for home, including a fridge magnet with a piece of the wall on (or so it said). A few shops along I spotted the office for a bus tour company. I was starting to think that all the things I wanted to see were miles apart. The price for a tour of all the major tourist sites wasn't too bad, and I could hop on and off as I liked, so I paid the lady and waited for the bus to come (they come every 10 minutes). It was an enclosed double-decker, but I was thankful for the warmth.

The bus moved along the road and over a river, past a series of grand, neo-classical buildings. I spotted the familiar shape of the Brandenburg Gate in the distance, but the bus took a right before the gate and stopped right next to the enormous Reichstag. I hopped off, readied up the camera and set off on a walk. I went back towards the Gate, passing a collection of white crosses on a fence that was near the old line of the wall. All the crosses bore names, obviously of those who died trying to get from the East to the West. Chris Gueffroy was the last person to die trying in February 1989, only a matter of months before the borders were opened and the wall started to fall.

At the Brandenburg Gate there were hundreds of people milling around taking pictures, and a group of young men dressed in US military uniform posing with some tourists (for a small fee). The gate had some ugly metal fencing near it, making picture-taking a bit of a pain. I think there had been a concert at the other side, having spotted a few scaffold structures being dismantled through the gaps between the columns. I returned to wait for the bus. Once on again, I relaxed and watched Berlin pass me by. We passed all the new government buildings and embassies and the shiny new central railway station. Then we went past part of the enormous tierpark (city centre park) towards the Charlottenburg Area. We turned onto Kurfurstendam and I decided it was time to hop off again. There were a few sites to see here, and I was hungry anyway. I spotted the Hard Rock Cafe a little way along the road and made a beeline for it. I nearly fainted when I saw a Trabbant car in the corner, covered in coloured squares. It was one of the cars used as promotion by U2 for their album Achtung Baby, recorded in Berling's Hansa Studios back in 1990/1. I took a photo, naturally, then ordered some food. It came really quickly, was eaten far too quickly and I was soon back on the streets.

The Blue Church, or Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, is one place I remember seeing from my previous time in Berlin. It was damaged in WW2 and had been added to in the 1960s, with distinctive blue glass on the new belfry. I was a tad gutted when I turned the corner to see it covered in temporary cladding. It's obviously undergoing some repair works. So I waited for the tour bus again and hopped back on. We started heading back towards the central area, and the recorded tour guide told me on my headphones that we were heading for Potsdamerplatz. The square had been essentially the central square of Berlin for years up until WW2, when it was pretty much leveled by bombing (as much of the city had - up to 75%). During the Cold War years it stood in no-man's land, desolate and neglected. When the wall came down it had new life breathed into it and is now a huge glass-covered area, surrounded by new office buildings, shopping malls and cinemas. I do remember climbing up to a public viewing platform and looking over the wall when I was a kid, and the area I saw was probably this very place. I remember how grey and dull the East looked. Now it was unrecognisable.

We drove past the Jewish Museum, the tour guide telling us about the symbolism of the zinc panels and windowless towers, then passed a stretch of the old Berlin wall, but there was no chance to get off (annoyingly), so I had to snap the wall from the bus as we drove past. It is now a museum piece, protected from what the Germans call "wall woodpeckers" who still come to chip off souvenirs from it. Reinforcement bars can be seen here and there, and most of the graffiti on the Western side has gone.

The next stop was Checkpoint Charlie. I hopped off again and went for a look. It obviously wasn't the original structure but a small wooden hut with some replica signs on it. The Checkpoint I remember was a larger, flat-roofed building. There was a McDonalds and a Starbucks right next to it now. The obligatory uniformed men stood in front of the hut, charging for snaps. The more interesting part was a large wooden hoarding just past the checkpoint where a history of the wall had been printed, detailing how the city had been divvied up after the war, then how the wall had been built in 1961 to stop the Eastern German economy losing all its human assets, going on to tell the story of the Cold War and how the communist states started collapsing in late 1989, the wall came down and Germany became one again in 1990.

I gave up on the bus after that. I didn't want to miss anything else. I decided to walk back to Alexanderplatz, and I'm glad I did. I saw some incredible examples of churches, libraries and university buildings, all restored to their former glory. The streets were now alive with tourists and the sun was shining on the autumnal trees. I passed an area of grass near a river bank with some kind of urban artwork in the shape of dozens of giant lollipops stuck into a map that had been painted on the floor.

I eventually got back to my car, walking back past the TV tower which was now shining in the sun. I decided I had time to go back to Charlottenburg, the district where I lived more than 30 years ago. I knew it was till there; I remembered the name of the street (the streets around there were all named after famous authors) and had looked it up on google maps. It took me nearly half an hour to get there, even though it was a straight-line drive most of the way. The city is just huge. I turned a couple of corners and was suddenly back on a street I hadn't been on for over 30 years. It didn't look like it had changed a lot. The primary school I went to was still there as well, just at the end of the street. It is now simply The Berlin British School rather than Charlottenburg Primary, but it didn't look to have changed much. I wonder if they still have the huge metal slide that went down the wooded hill at the back...

I took a quick snap on the phone camera, trying not to look like a snoopy weirdo, then set off for "home". I had a long way to go, but I had to do it. The drive took less time that the previous day, with the weather being better and my paying more attention to maps and directions, and I got back to the flat in Groningen at 10.45pm

I'd driven 700 miles and taken a few pics on the face of things, but it was more than that. Not only did I avoid another weekend of terminal boredom, I revisited a place that has changed incredibly in just 30 years, seeing a place I once knew through older and (I hope wiser) eyes. Berlin is a city of amazing, unparalleled history, and a place that has encapsulated world events for a good deal of the last century. When you think about what has happened there, World War 2 and the Cold War and all, it astounds you that it is now such a vibrant place full of life and wonderful architecture. I'm not going to wait another 30 years to go back...

flickr photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmicherb70/sets/72157631722518150/

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Calendar 2013