Friday, October 29, 2021

Are you sitting comfortably? Top Hat and Tales.

If last week's austere abandoned buildings photography and Black Country poem didn't get you quaking in your boots, I've decided to share with you a family ghost story, which will hopefully set the tone and get you in the right (or should I say "wrong")frame of mind for All Hallows' Eve.  I'll throw in a few spooky creations to aid the process.

Now, should you be a paranormal non-believer, please bear with me.  This story was relayed to me numerous times by my late father over the years and there was none more sceptical than he.  I had my own experience as a pre-pubescent, which I won't go into here, but he attributed many logical explanations to my own very real (and repeated experience during a period of 18 months), until the same experience befell him, shaking him free of his migraine pain.  My point is, that even whilst he was a first hand witness to the events I am about to describe, he maintained to the end, that there must be some more plausible explanation than poltergeists.  Yes, poltergeists...and it all started with a top hat.

Gareth modelling a top hat and allowing me to play around with Rembrandt lighting

My grandfather, Ernest Taylor was his generation's answer to today's charity shop aficionado, only in the middle part of the 20th century, he bagged his bargains from house sales and auction houses.  With six children (five boys, one girl) to keep occupied, much entertainment could be had from unwanted ornaments, paintings and for the younger members of the family, an old sword or an inoffensive, if slightly battered, top hat.  

When the top hat arrived, my parents' romance was in full swing.  They were "courting" and my Mom has clear memories of Ernie arriving home with an old top hat and a bible, purportedly discovered in the back of an old hearse.  

On that particular evening, my mother was visiting the house in New Street, Wordsley (then a thriving semi rural village) and recalls the top hat being passed around the fireside from head to head; each wearer acting the fool or striking a pose in a loud, exuberant atmosphere.

Typically however, any attachment to the top hat was short lived and it was soon relegated to the back of a cupboard, taking up occupation next to the brooms and feather dusters.  But soon, there would be more than enough to pique the family's interest.

One evening, my father awoke to the sound of footsteps in the alleyway between their terraced house and the neighbouring property.  The footsteps were approaching the back yard to the property and as my Dad attuned to the sound, sure enough, the footsteps soon made their way into the yard.  Dad was immediately on his feet and peered through the window.  There was no one to be seen.

Not the kind of the foot in the door you want

Days or weeks later (the chronological details are somewhat hazy numerous decades later), my grandmother was at home with her daughter, my Aunt Valerie.  They were alone at the property and were outside in the garden when they happened to see a bottle of perfume belonging to my Aunt, seemingly rise up above the bedroom window ledge, before falling out of the open window and shattering into a million pieces on the stone floor outside.  To all intents and purposes it was as though the bottle had been propelled through the open window by an unseen hand.  Naturally they were both quite unsettled by this event.  The window ledge was some distance above the chest of drawers housing my Aunt's cosmetics and perfume bottle collection.  Explanations were thin on the ground.

A few nights later, in the early hours of the morning, the dense silence of the dead of night was, without warning, violently disturbed by the sound of smashing crockery.  The source of the noise was quickly identified as the living room downstairs and Mitzi, the keen eyed, intelligent family poodle was whining her troubled alert.

My grandmother was no minimalist and the mantelpiece was awash with ornaments.  The picture hanging on the wall above the mantelpiece was on the floor in the corner of the room and the ornaments, en masse, had been swept to one side by someone or something.  Most were damaged beyond repair.  My mother recalls visiting the next morning during an extensive clean up operation and the family could talk of little else than the recent unexplained activity.

An exorcism of sorts

It may have been during that clean up operation that the top hat was discovered lurking in the back of the cupboard.  No longer of use, it was disposed of somehow and family life continued at pace but without any further drama of this nature.  Coincidence?

As with all children, I loved to be scared by ghost stories, but would grow frustrated when my Dad maintained that he didn't believe in ghosts.  He also never wavered from this version of events or embellished the story in any way.  The facts as I have outlined them were irrefutable.  My Dad had a number of ghostly encounters in his lifetime but still refused to entertain the possibility of their existence.  He was a mass of contradictions (like father like daughter).  Still, too many other witnesses bear out this story and to this day, those remaining cannot explain the supremely strange events of the New Street property.

So, what else have I been doing?  Well, I've fully indulged my dark side and created yet more visual creepiness to tingle the spine and accompany you into dreamland.

Here's a Dial M for Murder inspired photo.  We've recently opted to replace our ailing landline cordless telephones with an old vintage style telephone and with the the timely discovery of a tube of ghoulish fake blood in a drawer, what else was I going to do?

I also have a vivid memory of staying up late and watching the 1946 horror film "The Beast with Five Fingers."  Well, Gareth can be a bit of a beast at times and he's got five fingers, so here's my homage to that piece of cinematic history.  

Honestly, can you imagine today's generation being menaced by a disembodied hand and using a hammer and nails to dispense with it?

I've also been buying miniature pumpkins to dry out and roll out every October from this day forth.  Much better than buying plastic tat and adding to the planet's problems.

I also took a walk along the canal, past more relics of our region's industrial heritage...

...sinister spaces (a new title for George Clark?)

and met a wood fairy (aka artist Jan, the Wood Fairy to be precise). She sells her wares at festivals.  Vix you might know her?

We've planted the woodland bulbs and tulip bulbs around the garden - just in the nick of time.  They have to be in the ground by 31st October according to the experts.  Best get them in before the dead rise I suppose.

So, the scene is set.  We're ready for the rain.  This is Gareth's submariner's helmet, on which he is testing out some verdigris paint. 

 I have candles, reading material, red wine and some TV viewing scheduled (Paris Police and a suitably scary film for Halloween (to be decided)).  

Other than that, this weekend, I will mostly be levitating.

A little levitation and little more action, please.

Sweet dreams!

Sunday, October 24, 2021

If Walls Could Talk; An Urban Safari

I had quite a major falling out with my pc earlier after spending a good chunk of my morning downloading and editing photos (there are many more still to do), uploading them and writing this week's blog - being careful to save throughout - only to knock a key on the keyboard and lose the whole blog in a nano second.  I have no explanation for this, other than a gremlin in the computer.  It's a sign Halloween is closing in.

So, here's my second attempt.  Forgive me if it's lighter in written content - I'm hoping the photos will speak for themselves.  

Last week I received an invitation to go on an urban exploration, which I seized with both hands.  Whilst I love nature and landscape photography, I have another side.  I adore urban decay.  I often bemoan the fact that our local council seems content to allow nature to reclaim many of our handsome buildings or even worse, sanction their demolition, whilst giving developers the green light to throw up featureless, soulless boxes, but that's another matter.  The reason I don't do this is simple.  I'm easily spooked.  There's safety in numbers, so I wasn't going to turn down the chance to join Ian and Jay on an urban safari.

The outing was both thrilling and terrifying.  There were photo opportunities at every turn, but on one occasion, I briefly lost sight and sound of the others and spotted a figure moving swiftly through the undergrowth outside.  Suddenly I was featuring in my very own horror movie...and would soon become the first victim of the piece - and that's why I don't go solo.

So let's kick off with some photos of Black Country abandonment.  Inside the cavernous building with multiple corridors and rooms, access to the open plan top floor was by stairs or lift.  Needless to say I took the stairs.

As we moved silently along dimly lit passageways, almost every available surface had been decorated by local graffiti artists.

Had the sun been shining, the shafts of light would have been incredible, beaming in through broken windows and roof joists.

The combined textures of floor rubble, brickwork, peeling plaster and rusty steel stairwell hand rail were a gift and Jay's silhouette in the doorway elevated the photo to the optimum level of creepiness.


My favourite walls were those daubed with poetic verse in Black Country dialect and accordingly, I will leave the last words to this unknown Black Country poet.  

We'm ghosts haunted by place ay we?
Doomed to roam these these hollowed out halls.
Dispossessed by spirits and burnt offerings,
We scatter ruin (sic) stones before deep-rooted idols...
Craft their names on the skin of owd factory walls.

If that doesn't get you in the mood for All Hallows' Eve, then I don't know what will.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

True Colours

What a bleak week for news; predictions of a winter of discontent, racism rearing its ugly face yet again on the football terraces, the Queen voicing her concerns that leaders are all mouth and trousers (I'm paraphrasing), and terrorism in Norway and on home turf, resulting in the murder of 5 Norwegian citizens and British MP Sir David Amess.  I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to push a big button marked RESET or REWIND.

We also watched - and abandoned - the widely publicised Squid Games.  I'm no shrinking violet, but even I felt that the violence was gratuitous, even allowing for the subtext (which somehow felt a little patronising and something of an excuse to me).  Life's too short for such stark TV viewing.  

We've been recovering still from the so called "super cold" in circulation and my back has been playing up, so, aside from a couple of walks, my extra curricular activities this week would be best summarised as "pottering" often at a 70 degree angle.

As an antidote to the last 7 days, this post is going to be about light and colour.

I purchased next year's tulips from Ashwood Nurseries. 

First up, the beautiful peony flower, two tone, rhubarb and custard variety Wirosa.

Next, the rather exotic sounding and looking Ali Baba to complement the Wirosa tulips.

And finally, Spring Green, the same variety of tulips I planted last year.  I foolishly threw away the packaging, so promptly forgot their name.  I had also failed to notice that they were a late flowering variety, only to be reminded of this possibility in a desperate phone call I made to Ashwood Nurseries, enquiring why my tulips weren't blooming (the shame!).

I've also been foraging - not for food, but for Autumn foliage.  I love the transitioning colours and am quite partial to dead flowers and seed heads for their architectural properties.  I haven't contravened any laws as no plants were dug up in the production of these creations.  I just selected the odd bent flower, seed head or sprig taken by the wind.

This year's fig crop has been a huge success.  Usually I count at least 20 figs, only to discover at the optimum time of ripening, that they have been stolen by some as yet unidentified thief.  Our chief suspects:-

1.  The grey squirrel (my winter nemesis, as he can overcome literally any obstacle to gorge himself on bird seed from the feeder).

2.  The humble wood pigeon.  

Whoever is responsible, we believe that Lotte has taken on fig defending duties and repeatedly given chase this year as I have enjoyed feasting on numerous ripe figs.  (I can also forgive Lotte her nocturnal shenanigans this week, the triple hairball offering and her inexplicable abseiling of my clothes airer).

Funnily enough, I thought I didn't like figs (flashbacks to early 80s fig roll biscuits), but I have acquired a taste for them now and they look so beautiful when sliced into quarters.  I'm the only one in our household too, so get to eat them all!

I decided to jump on the food photography bandwagon (apparently it's very now) - something I've never really tried.

Also, check out this aptly named Zombie F1 hybrid pumpkin Gareth picked up from Morrisons.  It's warty enough for Halloween but definitely too beautiful to carve.  It's a keeper!

Back in the garden, the ladybirds are out in force.  I have a small, bright yellow garden table and this seems to have attracted the little beauties in spades, offering up a wonderful ready made outdoor studio setting with Autumn leaves as props.

Finally, on our walk yesterday, we encountered not one, but a flight of doves.  This is very current.  The John Lewis home insurance ad has attracted numerous complaints, forcing the company to put out a statement defending their decision to feature a boy in a dress.  I couldn't give a fig about this.  I think the advert is infectious, theatrical and exuberant and when the soundtrack is Stevie Nicks' White Winged Dove, what's not to like?  

Peace all.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Cold, Cold Heart


I find that whenever I have to set an alarm, I sleep lightly, stirring frequently in the hour or so prior to the designated wake up time.  Last Saturday was no exception and so I was ready when the 7.30 am alarm call sounded.  I think adrenalin and excitement had kicked in, as I was booked to accompany a lovely local wedding photographer as her second shooter.  My role was to cover the groom's preparations and capture the bridal party's arrival at the wedding venue.

For once my ageing Sat Nav behaved and we were on the same page when it came to the route to the given address, so no "do a U-turn" monotone mantras for me!  I arrived in good time and was greeted by a groom still in jogging bottoms.  

Inside, the best man, ushers and the groom's young son were all suited and booted...and so the preps began.  There is no time for awkwardness in these situations and despite it being well over 18 months since my last foray into the world of wedding photography, I was soon back into it, balancing precariously on a toilet seat to photograph the groom, over his shoulder, in the bathroom mirror and rearranging patio furniture outside to ensure clean lines and an interesting backdrop in the garden for the group shots.  

The 90-minute window flew by and I managed to snag one of the limited parking spaces outside the venue, bracing myself for heavy rain.  Thankfully I was able to discharge my duties before the heavens opened, the weather was abysmal and I felt for the couple.

As the principal photographer edits my photos to ensure that they are presented in the same style as her own shots, I don't have any I can share just yet.  It certainly wouldn't do to share them before the bride and groom have seen them.

However, couples are usually made aware that a selection of their photos might be used in the future for promotional purposes.  Having been bitten by the bug again, I re-visited some of my previous efforts with a view to updating my website and starting a separate wedding/events Instagram account.

Here are a selection of early efforts.  I have tried to apply a certain style to each set befitting my memories of the day.


The final batch were taken at my very first solo shoot in the summer prior to the pandemic.  This was a very relaxed affair - a stunning venue, natural light photography, not too many formal shots and the most welcoming wedding party who seemed to make it their mission to feed me.  It was a wonderful first experience.

Unfortunately, for the rest of the week, I have had my first cold for over 18 months and it was a beast!  A friend had reported having a cold and almost dismissing it as such before taking a lateral flow test and getting a positive result.  I had been taking daily LF tests which were coming out negative, but after feeling a little better, on the third day I developed a persistent cough and decided to book a PCR test.  Thankfully the test result was negative and I am much improved.  However, the accuracy of lateral flow tests is concerning.  Our son has a few friends who have in the last few months had Covid infections.  On each occasion, their lateral flow tests were negative, even at the peak of their symptoms.  Only the PCR tests proved positive.  Now, the UK government looks set to scrap PCR tests for travel in favour of lateral flow tests...

So, in the throws of a bad cold, I have pretty much kept myself to myself this week and only in the last couple of days, have I ventured out for a couple of solitary walks.  For the record, my really irritating, persistent cough all but disappeared after 24 hours.  This could have been pure coincidence, but I did indulge in not one but two hot toddies on Thursday night - hot water, juice of half a lemon, some honey to taste and a measure of brandy. (It was definitely a two hot toddy cold).  

As you may recall, I've been conducting my own experimental photography exhibition by placing photos I have taken over the last 18 months in and around the area - ideally close to the locations in the photos.  I do this sporadically, in batches and the results have been mixed.  Some have trickled in quite quickly....

....including a private message from the grand daughter of the owners of Enville Hall (pictured)...

...who discovered this Autumnal shot taken and placed somewhere on the estate.

Others remain insitu; overlooked (amazing when we live in an area of curtain twitchers) or collected, but not shared on social media channels.  I don't mind this too much - the recipient could well be an individual from a demographic not predisposed to embracing the world of online interaction.  As long as they like the photo and it brightens their day, that's good to know.

First thing on Friday morning, I headed through the garden gate and into the wood to capture the first of the early Autumn mists.

My favourite oak

Startled Wood Pigeon

Walker in the woods

On my return, I reached for a macro extension tube to capture some Autumn indicators in closer detail.

Morning dew

Tiny fungi

Abandoned, water-filled pigeon egg shell

Transitioning colours

Tangled up in blue - web covered lace cap

After spending much of the week feeling exhausted and dosed up on paracetamol, I decided my body needed to move.  My woodland escape was very leisurely, given that fresh air and photography were the priorities.  I reached for my long neglected nordic walking poles and headed to the hills - Kinver Edge to be precise.   I love walking, but they can often end up more of a stroll and the natural tendency is to adopt a more relaxed posture, whereas nordic walking provides a full body workout, because you have to move your arms into a handshake motion and then back and forth, keeping them straight, thereby giving the sticks purchase on the ground and working your upper body and increasing the heart rate.  I'm old enough not to give a hoot about funny looks and wisecracks.  Due to a couple of troublesome discs, my bothersome back has put paid to my running days, but I love to just put on a pair of shoes and exercise from anywhere without any pre-planning and so nordic walking's quite a good option for me.

Anyhoo, given that I had poles attached to my wrists, I was sans camera, but fear not, here's a photo from a couple of weeks ago, in sunnier times, of Kinver's resident long horns soaking up the last of the summer sun.

I haven't posted any outfit photos recently, but here's my latest acquisition - a vintage knit, purchased from a local charity shop just prior to my nordic walking adventure.  A true case of fashion informing life.  So something else I'm now clearly old enough for - a "fun" jumper.  Who'd have thought Gyles Brandreth would ever one of my style icons?  It's a slippery slope!

Last night's TV viewing was all about the final episode of BBC's The North Water and Colin Farrell's terrifyingly dark but Oscar-worthy performance.  Edge of the seat stuff!

Tomorrow, I am meeting up with a friend for a long overdue catch up.  It's madness considering we live less than five minutes apart and both simply have to open our garden gates to the woodland beyond if we want to go for a walk together.  Circumstances and work have kept us apart, but tomorrow, we will be wearing a groove in the path around the perimeter.  I predict it will be a two lap chat.

What are you up to? 

A Balancing Act

  I always find myself in a reflective, pensive mood at this time of year.  Life moves at pace and I'm finding it increasingly difficult...