Sunday, October 25, 2009


Are YOU in for a treat. If you’ve not seen this lady’s work before, these are some of the best portrait pictures you will find anywhere.

Jane Bown worked for “The Observer” newspaper in England for 60 years, and currently an Exhibition of her life’s work is being shown in London. 100 of her pictures of the Great and the Good, and perhaps some of the Not so Good since 1949 are on display.

She is a very self effacing photographer and it is quite likely you will never have heard of her. That’s one reason why she takes such excellent pictures. With people like Annie Liebovich, it's hard to avoid the thought that the image is more about the person behind the camera, than the one in front of the lens. This lady is very different.

Portrait photography is not easy at all. First, even if you know the person well, you have to get that person to sit for you - we do know who we're talking to here, don’t we, by the way? Actually, before that, you have to have an idea of what that person is like, so you know what it is about the person in the portrait, you’re trying to bring out.

Getting people to relax, and “be themselves” sounds all to simple. It isn’t. A few people can do it, most can’t. Even when you know the person well, picking up and pointing a camera at someone brings up the shutters (no pun intended), and the “interview” face comes on, with the person you really want to photograph disappearing.

Photographing celebrities is different. They are used to being photographed, many even welcome it, so that bit is not the problem. The problem is photographing the real person, not the image that the person wants to be seen by the camera. The reality is that we have no idea what someone like Richard Nixon or Marilyn Monroe was actually like. We rely on their own writings, the writings of others, pictures, conversations and snippets from their friends and enemies and those who just “knew them” to flesh out the view of that person in our minds. Always, the distortions which these Third Parties, intentionally or unintentionally, overlay on the reality give us a picture which can only be an interpretation. It takes a special person to begin to slide behind the mask.

This applies to all portrait photography. Everyone, especially the person with their hand on the shutter button, has an angle, a view and an opinion - it's inescapable. The degree to which you’re looking at the real person, or the photographer’s spin on the individual in front of the lens is impossible to deduce. In the end, I believe in the end it’s a simple matter of belief, if you don't actually know the person in the image - if you think it’s the person, then it is.

Jane Bown’s style was to work very quickly, capture the immediate essence of the person in front of the lens, and disappear. There’s a very revealing short video of a Channel 4 interview - - with her a few days ago, explaining how she took her pictures. Certainly, early in her life, she often had little idea who the people the “Observer” sent her to photograph actually were. Even later on, in the Nineties it was “Who’s Jarvis Cocker?”, which may not have pleased him too much, but at least it meant the guy got treated as much like a normal person as possible. Perhaps that’s why there’s an overwhelming sense of naturalness about her pictures which is so refreshing.

A few words from the interview tell us a lot, when the interviewer asks her about her approach to the subject -

Bown - "Light .... Get you in a good light, so that I can see your eyes ... Pause ... Look into them ... long pause .... And that's it really."

Interviewer - "The eyes are the most important bit ..."

Bown - "That's all .... Eye to Eye ..."

Here’s another link - The Complete Jane Bown, A Lifetime in Photographs – just click on the Gallery tab - which takes you to a slideshow of the 100 images in her Exhibition. I think it’s a remarkable achievement, and shows her to be at the very top of the pile of Portrait photographers in the last 50 years.

A few of these are shown below.





She is in a wheelchair and has stopped taking pictures now, but when I look at her body of work, she made a unique record of her times, of the Good and the Bad, the Beautiful and the Not so Beautiful – in immediate and fresh Black and White images which will stay in the mind for a very long time.

What a legacy.



Just occasionally, you wake up, completely unaware that your life is going to change, and change seriously before the day is out. All too often these days as the years pass, it’s not something good. But yesterday, I had one of those life-changing days which left me on a real high.

Going about my business, causing offence to no-one, I went to the local shop to pick up my newspaper, and –

THE DARK MARS BAR IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


You have no idea how important this is in my life. I don’t eat an enormous amount of sweets, but once in a while, I get hooked on one particular brand, and gross overload consumption, on a semi-industrial scale, ensues.

It’s really quite pathetic, but if that’s the worst thing I do, well ……

The fiendish Marketing Men from Mars (that’s the Mars in Slough, not the one on the way to Jupiter) first dreamt this product up about 10 years ago. I remember buying one in a petrol station, and consuming it on the way home from work. I think it was called the Mars Midnight then – very soft lights and “Would you care for a nightcap, my dear?”.

Its dark, slightly grown up chocolate taste mingled with a fluffy and light nougat, much whiter than normal, complemented by a layer of soft, squishy caramel. I thought it was definitely a confection for those people with taste, refinement, class and a rare touch of discrimination - the Mars Bar for the Connoisseur in fact. They are definitely to be eaten with your little finger crooked daintily in the air, not wolfed down in two bites or heaven help us, consumed in the (alleged) Jagger/Faithfull style.

So I binged on them, and became a hopeless addict. And what did the bastards do then? They took it off the market without a by-the-by, or a hint of a bit of prior notice. Suddenly they just disappeared. I’ve never been into drugs or that sort of thing (Alcohol’s not a drug, it’s a vital food, necessary for the efficient functioning and smooth operation of my body) but over the next few days I felt exactly how I imagined a crack addict must feel going down the “cold turkey” route. I drove around town looking for out of the way little shops who might have been left with a bit of unsold stock. But no luck. It was almost as if the fiends from Slough had driven round every shop they’d sold them to and taken all their unsold ones back in to captivity, just to torment me.

Not a pleasant time in my life at all.

And then, about 4 years later, the things reappeared. I don’t know why. They just did. Is there someone in Mars who enjoys irritating their customers, Mars Bar Teasers in effect who get there kicks seeing grown men driving around small rural shops late at night looking for non existent bars of chocolate. I think it’s all a bit sadistic personally.

Anyway, I am not one to make the same mistake twice. I came up with a personal Worst Case Scenario, and assumed that this time, it might also only be in the shops for about four weeks. So I bought two boxes of the things and salted them away as Strategic Stocks, hidden away from prying eyes, in a location that would go with me to my grave.

Except of course that this totally missed the point. They did indeed strip the country’s shelves bare of the infernal things again after a few weeks, and I sat back with the luxurious thought that I was safe from their actions. Two boxes, at 24 per box is 48 units of pleasure. 48 units of pleasure at 2 per day means 24 days ie 3 and a bit weeks. I don’t recall the details now, but I suspect that my re-addicted state probably resulted in me mainlining on more than the planned "One with my Morning Coffee and One with my Afternoon Tea strategy". There was possibly an "Oh I’ll just have another one before I go to bed" bit of the plan that I may have forgotten to include. So, a couple of weeks later, they’d got me again. And this time there was the added personal guilt and inadequacy of trying to outwit them and failing so dismally.

Anyway, this time it’s going to be different. I’ve checked on the website and it’s a “Limited Edition” on sale for four weeks. Why the hell do they do this? Nastyness for its own sake? The whole point of sweets and confectionery is to give people instant pleasure, so where is the need to behave in such a despicable and unpleasant way? Is it just to show a small section of the population that Multinational companies are all powerful, and just don’t you forget it? I’m not a litigious person, but I'm sure most liberal minded Human Right Lawyers (is there any other sort?) would advise me that a test case in Strasbourg was a winnable proposition.

I think there’s two weeks to go. My local shop has 4 boxes in store, and I’ve also scouted around to find secondary, back-up sources of supply. I’ve measured the size of the box, and done a 3-D space review of my fridge to investigate the close packing capabilities on the shelves. If, without being noticed by the lady of the house, I get rid of the non essentials like Milk, Butter, Vegetables and the other fripperies, I think I can get around 1000 inside. Unfortunately, the boxes will not fit vertically in the door bins, so the 15 bottles of wine currently in them there will have to stay. Maybe I can live with that.

At a strict ration of 2 per day, this will last around 1½ years, which is better than the previous 5 and a bit weeks, but still not long enough to span the four years or so enshrined in Mars’s devilish Product Cycle.

Apart from buying some additional shelving in the coolest part of the garage, for additional overflow storage during the winter, I’m worried that this 2½ year gap is unfillable. I could consider planning on One per day, rather than Two, splitting each one up in the morning into two halves, but I’m not sure the early morning will-power needed for that strategy to work, would be strong enough.

Perhaps my children, who live quite close, or some well meaning friends, might squirrel some away for me. Except, most of them are quite partial to the taste as well, so when I went to collect them, it’s quite possible that they may have “disappeared”, a bit like the “Angel’s Share” in a Whisky Distillery.

All this means that it’s already beginning to look a bit like being on the 10th day of a two week holiday, when the thoughts of the end of the holiday begin to crowd in on the unalloyed “Away from it all” pleasure you’ve felt up until then. The Dark thoughts.

Ah! Dark Thoughts. Excuse me. I’ve just got to go to the fridge. I might be some time.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Regular readers may possibly have noticed that I have a rather unhealthy interest in Cricket.

Pause for Groan – but, although this little piece is related to cricket, it isn’t really. It’s about a man who plays the game at the highest level, and the way that greatness sometimes brings problems to blight someone’s life seriously.

Marcus Trescothick. He currently opens the batting for Somerset, and he’s pretty good. Actually, he’s bloody good. One of my absolute favourite players. 33 years old, he played for England for many years, and was a key part of the England team which won the Ashes in 2005 – Player of the Year in fact.

I don’t recall a better opening batsman in the country in the last 40 years. I suspect, for the first few years of this century, his was the first name the England selectors wrote down when they selected their team, apart from the captain. Actually, given some of England’s recent captains, I’m not sure that the captain’s names got written down before him that often, but that’s another story.

Trescothick played some stupendous innings for his country, and amassed 5,825 runs during the 6 years he was in the England team. To put that into some sort of perspective, only 10 men have ever scored more runs than him, with Graham Gooch’s 8,900 topping the list. None of the 10 above him played for their country for less than 12 years amassing their totals, and some of their careers actually lasted more than 2 decades. His rate of scoring must be the highest ever.

His style of play is very individual. He does not move his feet as the purists say you (or he) should. He has exceptional Hand/Eye co-ordination, and when you watch him, he seems to have all the time in the world to stop the ball in mid flight in his mind, examine what it’s doing, decide on his shot and then play it. An English Virender Sehwag – and that’s a compliment of the very highest order. He’s a big, solid man – 6ft 3in – and he hits the ball very, very hard, but with a slow, almost languorous, even contemptuous swing that looks so simple, but is so effective. You only have to look at the bowler’s face when Trescothick gets his eye in. They know they’re in for the equivalent of a sporting execution. There are very few players who you’d run to the TV to watch if you heard they were batting, but he’s absolutely one of them.


But ….. there had to be a but. When he went out to India in 2006 to play Test Cricket out there, he was found collapsed and sobbing his heart out the Dressing Room. He came home under a media driven secrecy cover. “It’s a bug”or “Family problems” were some of the media's explanantions. Speculation about his marriage, the reasons were many – and all wrong. Trescothick didn’t help because he tried to cover it up, probably from a shame viewpoint. The truth was that he had clinical depression, and it had finally exploded. Why? Perhaps being a long way from home, or playing for England, or something else. Who knows?


Two years later, and after several failed attempts to return to the world cricket stage, it’s still there. He wrote a very moving and honest book about it all (called “Coming back to Me”) which takes you through the awful build up to his breakdown, and its consequences, in painful and gruesome detail, a book which gripped me totally and won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2008.

He still played on for his county through all this. England missed him dreadfully, and some well meaning but wrong people clearly tried to get him to return to Test Cricket, because he had left a gaping hole which is still quite unfilled. Thankfully he decided that his health was more important than any cricket match, so he concentrated on playing for Somerset. And in 2009, when you look at the Batting performances of all the hundreds of County Cricketers in this country, guess whose name is at the top. He scored the prodigious total of almost 3,000 runs this year – mind boggling - and he looked as relaxed as could be doing it.

A couple of months ago, with Somerset taking the World Stage in India for the Champions World Twenty20 League Series, he agreed to go and represent his county. You watched him with a good deal of trepidation and, rather depressingly I for one immediately felt from the start he was not the man you’d seen playing County Cricket in England during 2009. Out of sorts, timing all over the place, and not scoring any runs. Lo and behold, the “black demons” had come back, and he had to fly home prematurely, probably for the last time. How very sad.

He clearly wants to be back on the world stage, otherwise he wouldn’t keep subjecting himself to the ordeal, but the time must be here where he realises that “That was then, and this is Now”. I suspect he’ll now put it all behind him and just play county cricket for a few more years. I also suspect that he’ll stay right at the top of the County averages when he does that. Lack of pressure, and being comfortable with yourself.

A real crying shame for England, but for those of us who watch County Cricket, I, for one, think I’m in for a real treat.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


First post for quite a while.

It’s not that there’s nothing in my mind worth rabbiting on about. At the moment, it’s more like the antidote to “Mastermind” – I’ve started but I haven’t finished anything for a few days. My computer is littered with bit of this and bits of something else. Things like the revival of the MP’s expenses issue and the way it’s always the little things in life which cause the real damage, or a piece on the two men, Ponting and Hurley, who photographed the Scott and Shackleton Antarctic expeditions so brilliantly ninety years ago, or a bit on Humphrey Lyttleton, jazz player, writer, and the best quiz show host EVER, or even one on the ramifications of the Report on the MG Rover "Phoenix Four" fiasco, or the rather sad story of Marcus Trescothick, and a couple more besides. They’re all there in embryonic form, some struggling for survival and some blossoming nicely.

But they’ve not been finished, so the blogger’s equivalent of the Deafening Silence has invaded the 42at60 pitch for a couple of weeks.

Explanations over, this post now goes from the sublime to the Gor Blimey.

I’m sitting down this morning with a cup of coffee and a biscuit, or more accurately two biscuits. Now one of my less impressive habits is that of dunking these things. My mother taught me that it’s not done in polite society, a bit like picking your nose and flicking the results at one's host or wearing brown shoes at a funeral. So, since I’m on my own, and, as far as I can see, nobody is staring through the window, I decide that these biscuits are definitely going to be eaten sinfully and impolitely - dunked in fact.

I can’t believe how sad I am writing about all this in so much detail but they are the excellent, slightly burnt, caramelly, crispy little ones you get in a decent restaurant, individually wrapped with your coffee - the biscuits the word "Moreish" was invented for. Although I am not a pig, I have been known to eat a complete packet at one sitting. Actually, I can remember starting out on the second one!

Now the skill (yes, it is a skill) in dunking biscuits is all in the timing. The depth of immersion is related in a complex, non linear fashion to the time it’s in the liquid. Also, the thinness of the biscuit, the temperature of the liquid, the relationship between the biscuit's volume and surface area (I'm sure Aspect Ratio and Sweepback Angles may play their part as well here) and, if I recall correctly from my youth, the Angle of the Dangle, all interact to mean that the time it must stay in the liquid is almost impossible to compute. I suspect, empirically I have to say, that there’s probably a Square/Cube Law in their somewhere if you could but do the maths properly. Probably a good subject for a PHD Dissertation at one of the UK’s many second class universities. At least the experiments would be enjoyable. Talk about generating a hunger for learning.

But this morning, the human mind swerves past all this maths, avoiding the complexities of the dynamics of cantilevered structures flexing at close to yield points, the divergent thermodynamic properties of randomly wet materials under severe loading and the aerodynamics of bluff, rough surfaced objects at low airspeeds and in turbulent airflow conditions – do I hear the need to consider the Reynolds Number of a moving Ginger Nut anywhere? - it really is not a simple thing, all this. We aficionados rely on a lifetime of hard earned biscuit dunking experiences to avoid needing to address and solve these awesome scientific issues.

Practice teaches us, to within about a second, just how long to leave it in the coffee, so the maximum amount of liquid has been absorbed, but leaving the biscuit at the very edge of its operating envelope, just capable of being transferred to one’s mouth without that sickening spludge of sodden carbohydrate falling on newly washed and ironed shirt. The more skilled of us can repeatedly pull this off, and we know the inner pleasure behind the slight supercilious sneer we give when some less experienced practitioner tries to copy, and falls at the first. Without polishing my halo here, if dunking biscuits was an Olympic sport, I’d be putting my application in to be the England team Manager.

Anyway, I’m just savouring my second (and last) biscuit, when I taste a really crunchy bit – somewhat like the currants you get in an (undunked) Garibaldi biscuit.

Except of course, as I realise almost instantaneously but just too late, that there are no currants in the caramel biscuits I’d been munching on. Signal from Brain to Mouth - stop chewing NOW and investigate. This is a "Code Red". A finger leads the investigation and soon provides the answer.

Half a fly.

Further investigation reveals that the matching half is nowhere to be found, leading to one distasteful (in both senses of the word) but inevitable conclusion. As an ex-scientist, I considered the alternatives and immediately rejected the idea that this particular fly had previously just been chopped neatly in two by person or persons unknown, followed by an immediate parabolic free-fall into my cup of coffee. The reason being that I was on my own, otherwise I wouldn’t have been dunking the biscuits in the first place, would I? It’s not polite, I've told you that already. Pay attention.

So, the irrefutable whereabouts of the rear end of this recently dismembered creature became, in an instant, quite clear to me. I certainly couldn't see it but I knew precisely where it was.

Yes, I know this isn’t polite either but, Uuurrrrgggghhhh!!!

I don’t know why (the maths – statistics and probability theory - is hugely against it), but I could not resist an involuntary swirl around in the coffee with my index finger to see if its nether regions were still swirling around in the brew. I even pondered whether the recently deceased fly had perhaps been a member of a suicide pact, which had, like lovers jumping off the Clifton Suspension Bridge holding hands, or legs, as they met a watery end, resulted in another fly ending its life at the same time in the same Espresso. But No. The phrase "We enter this world alone, and we leave it alone" applies to flies as well as humans.

Oh Dear, sorry about all this rambling, but al least it proves to the outside world, if nothing else, that I’m still around.

I don’t know if anyone has ever coined a saying – “There’s only one thing worse than finding a caterpillar in your salad, and that’s finding half a caterpillar.”

If they haven’t then, I claim authorship.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Just occasionally, one sits back and looks at the way life is going. What's important, and what's not so important, or at least not as important as you once thought it was. A few months ago, I was employed (albeit on a One Day per Week basis), and a visit to the plant where I had been part of a team which had started the company some 15 years ago, was the highlight of my week.

Then the company, obviously lacking the firm direction I had given (!) since a medical “incident” 8 years ago, culminated in the Administrators being called in. About 95% of the workforce, including yours truly, received one of those “Dear John” letters which mark a turning point in one’s life – except mine was addressed “Dear Sir” which did not please me overmuch. Although I am aware there were reasons for it, it does not seem right that no-one could bother to ensure that they even called you by name when writing such a missive. For the first, and probably the last time in my life, I had been made redundant.

So what now?

As it happened I remained as a Trustee of the Company’s Pension Scheme, and the only noticeable change to my situation was that previously the Company paid for my efforts in this direction, whereas now it has involutarily become a Voluntary activity. But it remains a strange feeling to see oneself as unemployed.

Fast forward to tonight. It’s a Saturday evening and I’m sitting here pondering Life, the Universe and Everything. Great things have happened in our family in the last few days. My younger daughter has give birth to a little baby, the fourth of our grandchildren and the first girl in the family. She is of course the most beautiful creature on the face of the Earth, and everyone is doting on her unmercifully.

We are very lucky as a family in that both my daughters and their families live very close to us. A very pumped up John Daly could hit a Drive and a pretty decent 7 Iron in two different directions and each Second shot would land in one of the girls’ gardens. We can walk to both of their houses, and, in a situation like now, it is so much easier to help with what needs to be done. Given that much of it all is “Venus” rather than “Mars” stuff, my function is to look after the house and minister to our dogs while my wife is out on Grandmother duty. But the closeness of the extended family makes this all a good deal easier to orchestrate than if we all lived in different parts of the country.

It does of course have reciprocal benefits. My elder daughter, especially, is a very good cook, and tonight when I was sitting at home, one glass of wine to the good, watching the cricket from India and feeling like I couldn’t really be bothered to get up and make a meal, the phone rings and the gist of the message was that there was a portion of Shepherds Pie, and a chunk of Apple, Blackberry and Raspberry Crumble going a-begging if I wanted it. It took me about a minute to scoot down there, replete with plates and bowls to dish it all up onto. Talk about perfect timing.

It’s a pretty good form of symbiotic family co-existence. I keep a running tab for a sort of informal “Meals on Wheels”, paying, on a course by course basis for what I’d normally pay to construct a meal on my own. This pays my way, and salves my conscience regarding sponging off my children, which would never do. It also means that I don’t have to bother to cook occasionally.

On the other side of the coin, my daughter doesn’t have to worry about using up the left-overs from a meal, and, in spite of not wanting to accept money from parents, is forced to receive a tiny additional amount of revenue. Oh, and I get to eat some excellent meals. There’s probably a decent Carbon Footprint benefit somewhere, except I can’t be bothered to think where. I can’t even begin to see the first sign of a downside to all this.

Anyway, when I got there, my daughter explained that she was going to the cinema tomorrow with her two children to see “Up”, the new 3-D Pixar Cartoon. Now, ageing though I may be, I find most of these film to be absolutely brilliant and very witty - in my humble opinion, future Classics in the making. I’d read a couple of reviews about this particular film, and it seemed to get 5 Stars from most of the reviewers, so I piped up to say that I’d love to go along. So tomorrow, I’m off shepherding my two elder grandchildren to the local cinema, where we’ll no doubt hit the Popcorn and Pepsi, and quite possibly the Ben & Jerrys, stand, as part of the afternoon’s entertainment.

All of which makes the general problems of the world seem a fair distance away. It doesn’t mean they’re not there, because they are. Closer to home, a great friend’s Father in Law has just died, and another friend is recovering from yet another operation a few days ago. We’ve just been through a difficult period where one of our dogs has had a major operation and we wondered for some time about the outcome.

But, and this is the only reason for writing this piece tonight, it’s nice occasionally to see the other side of the coin.