Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Beginning of the End?

 Last weekend we immersed ourselves in Shropshire's industrial heritage.  After learning that human caused climate change made last week's record-breaking heatwave at least 10 times more likely, we headed to Ironbridge.  It's now something of a bitter pill to swallow that the long celebrated town, named after the world's first iron bridge erected over the River Severn at Coalbrookdale in 1779 and its spectacular wooded gorge, together formed the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, but also set the world on a dangerous trajectory.  It's also ironic that thousands of tourists add to their carbon footprints every year by flying in to visit the very place responsible for one of the world's most pressing issues.

I didn't photograph the bridge.  I'm sure it's familiar to most.  Instead, I opted to focus on the little details on our walk from Jackfield Tile Museum..

...along a well trodden path in the gloriously cool shade of the old railway track, such as the fragrant honeysuckle claiming the iron railings....

... past a cottage or two untroubled by time.

Here's the lesser known Jackfield Bridge, half a mile downstream from Ironbridge.  The old free Jackfield Bridge was build in 1909 to avoid tolls on the Iron Bridge and Coalport Bridge further downstream.  It deteriorated over time and in 1993 was demolished and replaced by this striking structure, built by Alfred McAlpine.

On Sunday, we were greeted by warm winds and drizzle, perfect conditions to explore the creepily atmospheric location of Titterstone Clee in Shropshire - a dramatic winding climb to 533 meters above sea level.  It is the third highest hill in Shropshire.

The Shropshire hills are renowned for their wild beauty, valleys and quaint market towns, but less so for the industrial relics clinging on close to the summit of Titterstone.  In medieval times, ironstone and later coal were mined, in particular from bell pits (shallow workings)  Over the years, large numbers of quarries were opened up on Titterstone Clee to exploit the dolerite or "dhu stone" named after the Welsh word for black.  Incidentally, nearby Ludlow was once the capital of Wales.  All but one are now abandoned...and abandoned places are a magnet to someone like me.

Conditions can change rapidly on Clee Hill.  I can certainly vouch for this.  Some years ago, I worked at my employer's Ludlow office for four months; an hour long commute which took me over the top of Clee Hill.  One evening, I was forced to pull into a layby in my little Mini when the thickest fog I have ever seen swept dramatically up and over the hillside, engulfing everything in its path.  

It was therefore unsurprising that there were only two other crazy people up close to the windswept summit last Sunday.   One was safely ensconced inside the van.  The other was taking in the moonscape that was the car park.

There is in fact evidence of human activity stretching back to the Bronze Age on this bleak and barren hill, but conditions restricted us to a wander around the weirdly brutal concrete and brick relics of a century of quarrying and stone processing.  I'm not a shrinking violet, but I have to say, I would not want to be stranded here alone.  For a more vibrant visual tour, scroll down for my sinister little video edit.

A little further and within spitting distance of the summit, is the Radar and Communications station with a footpath running around the perimeter.

You can just pick out the harsh geometric lines of the station's infrastructure poking through the mist.

As the weather grew increasingly inclement with buffeting wind and the discovery that my raincoat wasn't fit for purpose, we headed back to the safety of the car.

A windscreen shot of the sheep searching for shelter.

A truly fascinating place.  So there you go, the origins of industry and a post apocalyptic landscape in one cheery little blog post.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Desperately Seeking Shade

Forgive the plagiarism of the Madonna film, but I have been immersed in all things 1980s this week.  I'm organising a staged shoot in September to promote my elopement photography.  My concept is a 1980s inspired woodland elopement (think artsy, boho 1980s as opposed to the bridal froth of Princess Di) with a Stranger Things vibe.  My mood board is overflowing and I'm amassing a great team of suppliers, including a local model, who just so happens to be a Kate Bush fan, a Stranger Things devotee and lover of all things 1980s.  Coincidentally, Chloe grew up visiting my chosen woodland location as a child.  Her boyfriend, Tim, who has also agreed to take part, is even rocking an 80s mullet hairstyle.  Serendipity!  

Immersing myself in work and play has never been more important after the loss of Caroline.  We said goodbye in style on Thursday, all wearing a splash of colour to reflect her personality.  As sad as the service was, it was a fitting tribute, with a church full to capacity and the celebration of her life became just that, in the sunny garden of a 17th Century coaching inn.  Caroline would have found this photograph highly amusing.  

A guest was forced to abandon her shoes at one point in order to cope with the humidity, steps and uneven surfaces on her travels to converse with everyone.  Caroline was diminutive in stature and always appreciated a decent pair of heels; even more so a party.  She would have approved.

Having already been excused from jury service to attend the funeral, performing my civic duty turned into a non event.  I'd been rehearsing my dramatic "Guilty" voice (I jest) and bracing myself for a lengthy deliberation where I would give my best Henry Fonda turn in the jury room, but it was not to be.  Every evening, I would receive the email to say that I was not required to attend Court the following day and at the time of writing (Friday evening), I have formally been discharged from jury service.  

Given that the UK racked up its hottest temperatures on record, the central region, we reached a high of 36 degrees on Tuesday, the fact that I wasn't required was met with some relief.  

This photo was taken when I was pondering whether or not to venture into the garden.  Our view from the kitchen window, looking at the monster potted Gunnera Manicata outside; the light reflecting the kitchen cupboards behind me.

I went for it.  We have never been more appreciative of our woodland garden, which allowed for short bursts of exposure of sun on our pale English skin en route to the shade of the trees at the very top.  Here's a sun accented wild geranium at the bottom of the garden.

Old windchimes, claimed by spiders, glinting in the sunlight.

The rising sun in a cloudless sky just kissing the top of the laurel bush.

The corkscrew hazel twisting the light....

....and who did I find at the very top, hiding out in the tree house, which of course, now belongs to her?  Lotte the cat of course.  Lotte divided her time between the laurel bushes and the tree house, refusing to accept that it was actually cooler in the house.

On my return journey, I spotted the lace cap hydrangea blooming...

...glimpsed the house through the shade of the trees...

...admired the honeysuckle (very briefly, as by now, I was feeling scorchio)

...and paused for an ivy shadow selfie.

This photo reminded me of a series of barley shots I took a number of years ago, which included this weird and wonderful shot.  Can you see the barley spirit?

We sadly had regular visits from the fire service because it's seemingly impossible to educate some people as to the dangers of setting fire to tinder box dry woodland vegetation.  I wonder if they would feel remorse if the houses were engulfed in flames and lives lost?  

Rewinding a little to a day or so before temperatures peaked, we were able to visit a vintage store I had discovered online.  It's the area's best kept secret crammed to bursting with all manner of antiques and collectibles.  I will be back because there was a Victorian Carriage Cloak with my name on it (although the price tag requires some alteration)!

We also made friend with this beautiful black cat, who I'm calling Johnny Cash because he's the man in black and walks the line.

On our regular walks, I took this golden view from Kinver Edge...

...photographed the spiders' webs - from a safe distance...

...spotted this badly parked narrow boat...

...and indulged in more cat stalking.

I'll leave you with a short video I took on Monday from the shady top of the garden.  With the temperature already breaking all UK records, we suddenly experienced an unexpected rain shower.  It lasted for a blissful 2 minutes and felt like divine intervention.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Sweet Caroline

Short and bittersweet from me this week.  

I lost a very good friend earlier this month - unbelievably the second of 2022, which is rapidly turning into an annus horribilis. It was particularly cruel as we had plans for a long overdue catch-up, but fate intervened. 

Caroline was one of those rare people who epitomised the spirit of friendship.  She always knew just what say or do in any given situation - and when to pour the wine.  Given how many people counted Caroline as a friend, she somehow managed to make time for each and every one of them in that special way that requires impressive juggling skills and the memory of an elephant.  She never forgot a birthday or spoke ill of anyone and remained upbeat until quite suddenly she wasn't there.  I'm numb and in awe of her husband, daughters and immediate family who are stoically supporting each other through this.

It's usual for me to take quite some time to process these things and it's often something months down the line - a song, a photograph or the lightning strike of a memory that will floor me.  As unreal as this all seems right now, I am grateful for the years we shared and the memories we made; the Worcester party years, the epic soft top car journey to Edinburgh, her rapidly diminishing late night piano skills at our wedding as the champagne flowed and celebrations peaked, the Christmas Eve tears of joy when I shared news of my pregnancy and our unforgettable Italian adventure.

Like all true friends, we've laughed and cried, fallen down and picked ourselves up again and I will miss her easy manner, dry humour and ready smile.  She was one of the good ones...and she left some beautiful sunsets in her wake.

I'm am scheduled to carry out my civic duty and become a juror for the next couple of weeks, which will provide a distraction of sorts, so, assuming it goes ahead and I'm not dismissed, I'll catch up with you very soon.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

All You Need Is Love (and a gimbal)

I've had my head in the clouds most of this week, re-imagining my perfect wedding day.

Last weekend, I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening at my friend Jackie's evening soiree near Walsall to celebrate their recent nuptials.  Jackie and Sam had the right idea and jetted off to Rome to tie the knot, but their party was also full of personal touches, including tiny scooter table decorations bearing their names and some amazingly talented Northern Soul dancers who carved up that dance floor and really got the party started.  Oh, and here's the only photo booth evidence of my attendance.  The rest I managed to wreck with motion blur.  It transpires, I don't know what to do with my hands in a photo booth and so wind milling seemed like the only option.

I have been busy of late, liaising with wedding suppliers and hair and make-up artists, all striving to create what was to be a wildly romantic elopement shoot in rural Herefordshire.  Sadly it was not to be as a family emergency forced the model couple to pull out at the last minute.  

I had previously carried out a recce of the site - here’s a sneaky peek.

I fell in love with the textural overload of this farmyard scene en route to our location...

...and thoroughly enjoyed bimbling around this beautiful county.

Not my car!

Closed!  Shame, it was a lovely day!

Pembridge's historic market place.

Gareth and I got hitched on our own terms - a civil ceremony in a country pile with the run of the house and grounds to ourselves (were the owners mad?!).

I probably shouldn’t advertise the fact, but we had no official photographer - just friends with disposable cameras.  In retrospect and judging by the photos, possibly we should have reconsidered. 

But we did get to play Lord and Lady of the Manor for 24 hours…

...had lots of outside space to run around in…

… and, when the band went home, enjoyed our own Library Disco (a sit down one it seems) with our own choice of music (yep, we took along ye olde CD player).  This was way before Sophie Ellis-Bextor made Kitchen Discos a thing. 

But things have moved on since 2001.  Elopements really do offer total freedom of choice.  You get to do all the fun stuff; dress up, exchange your vows at a location of your choosing - whether that's a field at sunset or candyfloss and a fairground ride - and immediately start celebrating. 

I compiled a few shots of what our lovely area here in Middle Earth, I mean England has to offer; both town…

....and country.

The boring legal formalities can be conducted inexpensively days or weeks beforehand by requesting a Statutory Ceremony at a Register Office (the couple and two witnesses) for around £60.00.  You don't have to have the entire family in tow.  You don't have to worry about seating arrangements and separating warring relatives.  You don't have to endure embarrassing speeches or check that Uncle Bill isn't drinking the bar dry.  That said, if you do decide to take along close family members and friends to witness your unique elopement ceremony, then that's fine too.  It's personal choice.

In the last few months, I've been snapping up any second hand dresses I think might work well for elopements.  Remember, if you're pounding the city streets in mid summer, you might want to wear a simple shift dress and plimsolls.  If you're drifting through a flower meadow, you might want something long and floaty.  I can use these items for social media content to inspire prospective clients...and I do love a flat lay.

Here's one I made earlier.  

I’ve also been practising my film making skills and have created a couple of videos using a free editing app.  Some elopement shoots also incorporate film footage of the event.  It's a very skilled art and I'm not trying to don too many hats but do like to dabble in the film making process and I'm sure no couple would reject an audio visual memento of their day.  It's also evident that much can now be achieved with an iphone, a little know how and some imagination and creativity.  Oh and I might need a gimbal for Christmas!  

My first video location would definitely tick the alternative elopement ceremony venue box, but you’ll be relieved to know that this wasn’t at the forefront of my mind when creating the following edit.  I’ve blogged about this abandoned church before and was desperate to capture a little more of it's unsettling atmosphere on film. (Please forgive the Stranger Things vibe courtesy of the music.  I'm still a little obsessed).  I've set up a little YouTube channel for ease of sharing.

Abandoned Churchyard - YouTube

Music, it turns out, is the biggest challenge in creating these reels.  I assumed that free apps, with their libraries of music clips, would be royalty free, but that didn’t stop my next video being blocked in 72 countries by Instagram!  Surprising, because the footage couldn't have been more benign - riverside scenes of rowers, wild flowers, water ripples...I would've have been surprised if Winnie the Pooh had turned up!  The UK is not one of the countries that took against me, but I can only assume that Instagram's auto generated explanation:  "The rights to the content in this video may belong to someone else" can only mean that they have an issue with the music.  This begs the question, why include music on an app if it's going to fall foul of social media site rules.  

But before we disappear into a 21st century upside down world, I'll leave you with one that did make the grade - a little visit to our beloved Severn Valley Railway.  I know at least Beate will appreciate this!  

Severn Valley Sunday - YouTube

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