Thursday, May 28, 2015

Death and slate

click photo to enlarge
I was reading a piece recently wherein a writer was arguing that all mankind's actions are motivated, in some way or other, by the knowledge that we will all die. That this characteristic, one that distinguishes us from all other living beings, lies behind all that we do. Every action, no matter how important or trivial seeks to divert us from the thought of death, convince ourselves that we can transcend death, or prompts us to leave a record of ourselves that will last beyond the act of dying. I paraphrase rather crudely, but that was the gist of it.

That article came to mind when I was checking up on the progress of the repair of the spire at St Wulfram, Grantham. The usual entrance through the west door is not available due to scaffolding and a temporary path leads round to a door on the south side. This takes you through an area of the graveyard that surrounds the church where slate memorials predominate. Green Swithland slate, purple-tinged slate, grey slate and slate with a hint of blue can all be seen. Oolitic limestone is also present, but it is slate that catches the eye. The gravestones made of this material date from around 1760 through to the second half of the nineteenth century. And, the fact that they are made of slate means that they can still be easily read, the incisions almost as sharp as the day they were cut two hundred and fifty years ago. I've said elsewhere in this blog, and I'll repeat it again: if you want a tangible memorial to tell the world of your existence then it's hard to do better than a piece of inscribed slate placed somewhere that will not be disturbed.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 116mm (232mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It's rhododendron time

click photo to enlarge
It's the end of May and the rhododendrons at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire are beginning to display at their best, their large, opulent, very un-English blooms drawing admiring glances from all who pass by. I admire them too. But, having lived in North West England, and having experienced the rhododendron-choked woods of the Forest of Bowland, I also admire the way that the rhododendrons in this Lincolnshire location are periodically controlled, cut back and cleared from areas.

I was reading recently that the horizontal growth and spread of a single rhododendron ponticum can cover 100 square metres. The Victorian landowners, who planted them as cover for their game-birds and as exotic and beautiful additions to their woods and country house grounds, didn't realise the environmental headache they were bequeathing to future generations. These rapidly growing plants quickly spread, denying native plants their space. They have few natural enemies - insects don't like them and rarely damage them, birds are scarce around them for lack of insects, and mammals don't eat their leathery, poisonous leaves. The few rogue sheep or cattle that do usually become sick and often die. In an area of lowland heath such as Woodhall Spa they are particularly problematic because silver birch, a short-lived tree, is common. Consequently when such a tree dies its space is quickly taken and new trees cannot grow up through the rhododendrons due to the lack of light at low levels. If the shrub didn't have such eye-catching flowers rhododendrons would surely have been cleared from woods years ago.

I searched long and hard for this specimen for my photograph. I was looking for a flower in the dark recess of a bush with strong contrast between the light, bright bloom and the darker leaves and shadows. I also wanted a flower with a fairly regular, radiating "ruff" (as I call the ring of leaves). A slight, dark vignette has been added to my shot to emphasise the natural contrast.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 96mm (192mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.9
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:500
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Eagles, doves and aquilegias

click photo to enlarge
Sitting in an audience at a lecture about gardening the other evening I heard the speaker describe, aquilegias as "promiscuous". He wasn't, of course, referring to their morals, but to their habit of freely seeding and hybridising, producing offspring of many colours and tints.

I really prefer the name columbines for this plant. However, when talking to other gardeners about it you usually have to add "I mean aquilegias", and so I've come to use the Latin name. This derives from aquila meaning eagle and comes from the shape of the flower petals which were thought to resemble that bird's claw. Columbine comes from the Latin columba, meaning dove. This name is based on the resemblance of the hanging flower head to five doves with their bills touching at the top. It's interesting to note that the two most popular names for this plant relate to the polar opposites of the bird world, the war-like eagle and the peaceful dove. It doesn't end there, of course, because a common, colloquial English name for the plant is "Granny's Bonnet". But that's not something I'm going to delve into.

May is the month for this plant in England and I recently took the opportunity to photograph some of the examples that flower in our garden. When I came to look at my results on the computer I particularly liked the out of focus areas and decided to enhancing these with a blurred, lightened vignette. It's not my usual style but I'm not entirely displeased by the outcome.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 66mm (132mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:800
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Antiques down the ages

click photo to enlarge
There was a time when we regularly visited auctions and took an interest in the windows of antique shops. We were younger then, starting out in life, and the prospect of a bargain buy of an old piece of furniture to add to our home was something that appealed to us. In fact, we still have several of those purchases today including a lacquered and painted bamboo table, a chest of drawers, and some jade elephants. We retain them because they have served us well down the decades

I was reflecting on antiques the other day when we were in the Lincolnshire town of Horncastle. This is a place that has specialised in antique shops - it has many. Did antiques, I wondered, appeal to us more because we were younger? Did the age and character of the pieces offer us something that contemporary pieces didn't (apart from, usually, a better price)? In recent decades I believe that antiques have generally become less desirable than they were. They are not something I would go out of my way to buy today. But then, I have all the furniture I need, and am likely to need, so from our perspective that is certainly a difference from our younger years.

But, even though I'm not in the market for antiques, old habits die hard and I still have an occasional look at them through shop windows, on pavements, in yards, or wherever else they are displayed. Today's photograph shows a collection of pieces in a narrow yard at the side of a Horncastle antique shop. This section of the jumble of pots, statues, tiles, plants etc made a pleasing composition, and sepia with a vignette seemed a good way to present the shot.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 52mm (78mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, May 18, 2015

St Pancras station train shed

click photo to enlarge
It's a testament to the engineering skills, vision and achievement of the Victorians that so much of the infrastructure that they created still serves us today. Our large towns and cities, for example, still depend to a very great extent on the sewers that they constructed, and the essence of the railway system is almost wholly a creation of the nineteenth century.

I was reminded of this the other day when I walked through the arch under St Pancras Hotel in London and stepped onto the platform where the Eurostar trains were were lined up. What caught my eye wasn't the sleek elegance of the shiny locomotives and their carriages, but the enormous, soaring, single-span arch of the engine shed. This structure was the work of the engineer, William Henry Barlow (1812-1902) assisted by Rowland Mason Ordish (1824-1886). It is slightly pointed, creates a space just over 245 feet (75 metres) wide, and was the largest such building in the world at the time it was erected in 1868. The materials used were wrought iron, timber and glass. Each of the 24 main ribs are six feet deep and are created from a lattice-work of metal that lends the whole structure a light, almost insubstantial appearance. That it continues in service today is a testament to its strength and the skill of those who designed and built it. In the fifteenth year of the twenty first century we are used to being impressed by large, new, exciting structures - earlier in the day I had been looking at 1 St Mary Axe (the "Gherkin") and the new Broadgate development - and it's good, I think, that the buildings that awed the Victorians are still capable of inspiring that feeling in us today.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Beach Hut No.33

click photo to enlarge
Prior to my recent visit to the town I had only been to Mablethorpe in Lincolnshire once. That was several years ago, on a cold, dull spring day, as we passed through on our way elsewhere. Maybe the circumstances coloured my judgement somewhat but I wasn't impressed. My second visit was on a sunny, reasonably warm day, and though I wouldn't describe myself as wildly enthusiastic about what I saw, it wasn't quite the dire place that I remembered.

Mablethorpe is a small, brash seaside town with a modest promenade, fine sandy beach and several dashes of glitz. Oh, and caravans by the acre and beach huts a-plenty. I don't mind a bit of British seaside fun, though I do tend to prefer such places in the winter. From a photographic point of view, however, they provide a welcome contrast to the rural and more sedate places where I often find myself with my camera. Bright colours, surface sheen and jollity aren't bad subjects for the wandering photographer.

The beach huts at Mablethorpe stood out on our sunny day, many of them freshly painted for the coming season. Some were clearly municipally owned and quite uniform, others were privately owned with many bearing the stamp of the owner's individuality - quirky colour schemes, slogans, odd names, cartoon characters etc. And, it must be said, quite a few of the beach huts had seen better days and really needed some TLC..

Today's photograph shows part of one of the municipally owned huts in two-tone blue. Red blue and green were the favoured colours for these huts and each sported a large identification number. In one area they stood along the sea wall like the remaining teeth in a mouth full of extractions, the concrete base of a disappeared hut marking each cavity. I liked the diagonal shape that the sun placed on the verticals and horizontals of this example and the way it turned two shades of blue into four.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 50mm (75mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Alvingham watermill


click photo to enlarge
There has been a watermill at Alvingham, near Louth, Lincolnshire, since the 1100s. The brick house and the lower storey of the present mill (the white painted building) dates from the 1770s. The latter was extended upwards in about 1820 when the machinery was replaced. Alvingham watermill worked on a commercial basis until the 1960s, and the mill we see today has been carefully restored to working condition.

An 11 foot (3.35m) iron breast shot wheel power two pairs of overdriven Peak stones. The water supplying the power comes from the nearby River Lud. It passes under the Louth Navigation (a canal of 1767) in a 60 feet long brick tunnel that is 5 feet (1.5m) in diameter and returns to the river in another tunnel under the canal.

I took my photograph from a bridge at the end of the mill pond that carries a road to a farmyard. The clear May sunlight, on a day that was colder than it looks, sharply delineated the mill and its surroundings and gave every colour a strong boost.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f9
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Art Deco doorway

click photo to enlarge
English architecture of the 1930s was relatively unadventurous compared with that which was being built in continental Europe and the United States. The only buildings that can stand with the modernist structures across the water were built either by emigres fleeing the turmoil of pre-war Europe e.g. , the De La Warr Pavilion of Erich Mendelsshon and Serge Chermayeff, or by the small group of British architects e.g.Wells Coates, Maxwell Fry and Owen Williams, who were influenced by their continental and U.S. colleagues. The majority of English architects in the 1930s built very traditionally and acknowledged modern trends mainly by the application of decorative elements such as metal window frames with horizontal glazing bars, inappropriate flat roofs, or "Moderne" features using stripped down decorative elements, often drawn from classical precedents. A very few architects embraced the decorative tics of Art Deco, a style that had more success in the decorative arts than in architecture.

The other day, on one of our visits to Hull, we visited the Paragon railway station hotel (now the Royal Hotel, formerly the Royal Station Hotel), a fine stone building of 1849 by the architect G. T. Andrews. This is one of the few central Hull buildings that largely escaped the devastating bombing that the city suffered in WW2. A serious fire in 1990 saw careful rebuilding and consequently today we can admire its composition, carving and imposing facade. We can also enjoy the Art Deco doorway that was added to the entrance from the station concourse in the 1930s. This very theatrical entry has a rounded arch that echoes those of the older building. However, it is simplified, involves white glass illuminated from inside, and has decorative "curls" at the bottom. A glazed "overdoor" is also in very simply composed stained glass. The classical setting is acknowledged by the royal coat of arms that surmounts the doorway, and by the discreet brackets at the top left and right. Decorative metalwork can be seen in the ventilators in the centre of the steps. The whole composition feels like something lifted out of a 1930s cinema, or an American city, and in this context inserts a welcome note of gaiety that all too few people seem to notice.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 48mm (72mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
ISO:125 Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Spring in the woods

click photo to enlarge
We recently walked from Woodhall Spa to the tiny hamlet of Martin (see church in previous post) and back, a distance of about 9 miles. Quite a lot of our footpaths took us through trees. Lincolnshire isn't a county known for its woodland but it has more than the popular image suggests, and in places trees are really quite plentiful.

At this time of year the leaf canopy isn't fully developed. Consequently quite a bit of light still makes its way to the woodland floor. Bluebells and ramsons use this brief period as an opportunity to grow and flower. On our walk it was wood anemones that were taking advantage of the brightness: in places it looked like a light fall of large snowflakes had descended in the night. We heard chiff chaffs and a cuckoo, their distinctive calls further emphasising that spring is the season and winter is past.

Towards the start of our walk I photographed a subject that I'd photographed (and posted before). The track that goes through the woods that form part of the National Golf Centre, with its three courses, is a public footpath. This landscape is what is usually known as lowland heath. Silver birches and oaks are common in the woods and flashes of yellow gorse can be seen all year round. Here, however, the folly of the Victorians is also very evident because in several places the woodland is choked by rhododendrons. These will be spectacular when they are in full flower in a couple of weeks time but for the rest of the year they will be a dense mass of glossy greenery. But in the area of my photograph it is the slender silver birches that predominate making the woodland light, bright and almost cheery.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, May 08, 2015

Black Friday

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It was my intention to post today a shot of dappled sunlight falling on a path through the woods, but the "success" of Lord Snooty and his pals (or is it Little Lord Fauntleroy) in the UK general election has soured my mood and so here is a black and white conversion of a shot of the small, old and battered church of St Michael at Martin, near Horncastle, in Lincolnshire, that was the destination of one of our recent walks.

The British electorate as a whole has little interest in politics. Consequently it is frequently persuaded to vote against its own, the wider community's and the country's interests, by the Conservative party and its wealthy and influential backers in the press, the City of London and elsewhere. It will do this even against the evidence because it takes little interest in factual details and is much more interested in, and influenced by, "personality", scare stories and downright lies. So, the fabrications spun by the Conservatives and shrieked daily by the press take the place of facts in the minds of such people and become the reason for voting for them. The result is that the most inept and deceitful government of my lifetime has been re-elected, this time with a majority. Any non-UK readers looking at the table below must wonder what sort of ridiculous electoral system we have whereby securing a mere 36.9% of the vote can give a majority in parliament. They will be gobsmacked to hear that a system of proportional representation to replace it was rejected in a referendum less than 5 years ago. Truly, the idiocy of our electorate knows no bounds.

So we are consigned to five years of austerity, demonisation of the poor, privatisations, marketisation of the public sector, handouts to the rich and daily political incompetence. Not until the Conservatives have demonstrated their ineptitude repeatedly, in ways that impact at an individual level, and in ways that the press cannot disguise, will electors finally vote for a change of government. I'm not holding my breath.

What I'd like to see is a compact between the new party leaders of the non-Conservative persuasion coming together to argue loudly and clearly for proportional representation and an electoral system that produces a parliament that reflects all the disparate political views. Fat chance!

                                         Seats in Parliament           % of votes
Conservative                              330                               36.9
Labour                                        232                               30.5
Scottish Nationalist                      56                                 4.8
Liberal Democrat                           8                                 7.8
UKIP                                              1                                12.6
Green                                             1                                  3.8
(Other parties not shown)

We cannot keep disenfranchising a large section of the electorate by producing outcomes like that shown above. It's simply wrong.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 27mm (40mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Albemarle Music Centre, Hull

click photo to enlarge
Sandwiched between the prominent St Stephen Centre shopping area and the Hull Truck Theatre Company building, and forming part of the regeneration of this part of Hull, is the Albemarle Music Centre. This striking building, erected in 2007, is the music hub for the city's school children. It provides a base for the specialist staff who teach music across Hull's schools as well as practice and performance spaces for young musicians and visiting music groups. Part of the building is a 164 seat auditorium that can accommodate a full symphony orchestra. This space can seat a further 80 when smaller ensembles perform. The large (purple) cone shape forms part of this concert hall.

The building is the work of Holder Mathias Architects, a firm with a wide practice that includes the neighbouring shopping centre. The Albermarle Music Centre is a nice contrast with the adjoining sites and, through the prominent rounded shape, tips its hat, it seems to me, to Le Corbusier. The only aspect of the project that concerns me is the material of the dark purple cone-like shape. It is rough textured and already has a green growth in the shady areas. It will require regular cleaning and maintenance.

When I took my photograph I had thought that the colour of the cone would be the feature I'd highlight. However, black and white, to my mind, is a treatment that often suits architecture. In this instance I liked the way it describes the form of the building so I chose it over my initial preference.


photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, May 04, 2015

Spalding tulips under trees

click photo to enlarge
I have a particular liking for tulips. I haven't counted, but I think they will be the most frequently depicted flower on this blog. The Lincolnshire town of Spalding, and the area around it, has a long association with this flower. For many decades it has been grown in the locality both for the blooms and the bulbs, both of which are grown to be sold.

The now defunct Spalding Flower Parade featured hundreds of thousand of tulip blooms on imaginatively designed floats, and the event drew many people to the town to witness the spectacle. The other day we were in Spalding and had a look at Springfields Gardens, the area that sits alongside the purpose-built shopping centre and which makes shopping there bearable (for me anyway)!

We came across sunlit flower beds that featured a great variety of tulips and smaller numbers of other spring bulbs. This didn't surprise us. What did amaze us, however, was the sight that greeted us when we walked through the adjacent area of woodland. Large drifts of tulips had been planted there and were showing off beautifully in the dappled sunlight. It was most unusual to find this variety of flower growing in this kind of location, but it worked wonderfully well and I wondered why it wasn't done more often. The plants had managed to grow and bloom because they reached maturity before the leaf canopy was fully open and had begun restricting the amount of light that reached the ground beneath the branches - in much the same way that wild bluebells and ramsons manage to flower in this kind of setting.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon 5D2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On