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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nothing Ever Happens!

Been wanting to do a decent job on this song for ages and my sister and singing partner will crucify me for putting my stamp on the song before she can have a crack at it but couldn't resist a solo version (sorry Jane!)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New lens and 'Goodbye Girl'

I loved the band Squeeze, they were were a huge influence on me in my younger days and whilst I may well be biased, on repeat listening their music doesn't seem to age with time. I believe Glen Tillbrook and Chris Difford are still touring as a duo doing the occasional festival but their hay days with the band (including of course Jools Holland on keyboards) are long gone .... they don't get enough credit for my mind, so in my small way here's an attempt to revive a few memories - first of a couple of Squeeze songs, this is 'Goodbye Girl'

Hope you enjoyed that ... not 100% faithful to the original and that ending with a brief snatch of  'American Pie' just kinda happened and it sounded ok so stuck with it!

Second Squeeze song comming soon .... just deciding which one to cover!

Ok, on to things photographic and good and bad news. Bad news is that my trusty Tamron 200-500ml lens seems to have stopped working with my camera body (Canon 550d), something to do with a communication error between lens and camera ... might be sheer coincidence but this problem seems to have developed since I mounted another recently purchased lens - another Tamron (18-200).

Currently scouring the internet forums for possible fixes but no joy so far.

Good news is that the new lens is fab! Took it out and about the other day and took some pics in Antigny (a nearby small village with a semi famous Lantern des Morte, more of that later) and then in and around Montmorillon.

These are the Antigny pics.

The first 2 feature the Lantern des Morte (Lantern of the Dead) which is situated in the middle of the village. There are several similar small towers across the middle of France and although this one is perhaps not the most attractive of its type it is certainly one of the oldest - 12th Century. The origins and purpose of these constructions are not entirely clear but most common wisdom suggests that these were used to light medieval burial grounds. They all have entrances at the bottom and an opening at the top so that lanterns could be hauled up to shine a light on the dead. Most are situated on or near old burial grounds but not all, giving rise to another school of thought which suggest that over time Lantern des Morte is actually a mis-pronunciation and that these are actually Lanterns of the Moors - reflecting some kind of Moorish history and meaning. Like I say, its not clear but some of them are very fine looking and I like the element of mystery surrounding them!

Later on in the day I took advantage of the great light and took another stroll around Montmorillon. I've taken similar pics before but with my canon powershot but think these are much better.

The first 2 are of the Eglise de Notre Dame, with the second one 'artfully' hidden!

Here id a fairly typical view of the 13th Century bridge LeVieux Pont

Here we see a view of one half of Montmorillon from the top of the the Cite de Ecrit.

And lastly here is the 'very difficult to find any information on' statue of the Virgin Mary with Child - I don't think it's that old and certainly the base looks 18th Century. Any comments re this statue's history would be very welcome as I drew many blanks when attempting to research!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Breton Horses

Have to say that I'm never been a huge fan of horses and less so since one stamped on my now departed Jack Russell dog (Rest in Peace, Benny boy). Very probably I'm being totally unfair to one of man's greatest allies in the animal world; donkeys aside, they are without doubt very graceful and intelligent creatures. They have loomed large in many of our endeavours, from the Greek myths to the dubious conquering of the Wild West. They have graced the the silver screen, theatre and pantomime like no other animal before them and without 'Horse' we'd be bereft of such treasures as the Grand National, Royal Ascot, the Kentucky Derby, Trooping of the Guard, Betting Shops, Horse of the Year show, Princess Anne and Gypsies (ah ... not all bad then!)

Anyway, I digress .... (equinely of horse!), and whilst on the subject I will be posting the best horse song I can find very soon ... oops digressing even more! Ok on to main subject .... I was strolling around finding a few new walks and found myself around the the village of Lathus. Quite nice, usual fields and rolling countryside ( not many birds) ... when I came across these gorgeous and very inquisitive Breton Horses. Took lots of pics and here are the best along with  a single, rather sad looking Shetland Pony that was sharing the same field.

Now then, all of these horses (there were 4 in all, including the Shetland) would insist on getting right up close to me and nudging me, probably thinking I had food .... but that's just it, my 'bete noir' about horses. Friendly and useful they may be but they have huge heads and hooves that pack a punch and I don't like that sort of thing getting too close and bearing down on me!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

'Hold you in my Arms' Ray LeMontagne

Took so long to get this song right but I love it and glad I persevered! Its a beautiful song, one of Ray LeMontagne's best with his usual strong lyrics. As with many songs the words are open to interpretation but the song really chimed with how I've been feeling recently ... I wont go on, I do that enough in the clip!

Thawing river and a trick Raptor!

Although the River Gartempe is still well and truly frozen over in parts, especially around Saulge, the relatively mild temperatures have induced some kind of thaw and  it's been good to throw off my second duvet of a night! I walked down by the river yesterday morning and took a few pictures of the river 'defrosting'  - wrong lens with me to be honest but a few came out ok and this one in particular seems to capture the re-emergence of flowing water from the cold ice.

A bit further along the river bank I disturbed  what I thought was a Hen Harrier,which proceeded to ghost across a field (they're always flying away from me!) and then settled on a tree branch some 200 meters away. At that distance any lens is going to be tested and whilst these couple of pics won't win any prizes with the full 500ml zoom, it does reveal that this is in fact not a Hen Harrier at all but a very pale phase Eurasian Buzzard!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Impossible Goshawk!

Scanning the fields above Saulge for a pair of Hen Harriers I'd seen earlier from afar and hoping to at last get some decent photographs of these wonderful birds I came across a falcon flying straight at me. I had to be darn quick and switch from binoculars to camera .... was never set and the focusing was rubbish but fired of a couple of shots anyway.

To my surprise, when I downloaded the pics on to my laptop to have a look I'd somehow captured 2 completely different birds! The 2nd is obviously a Kestrel but the first? No way can I be sure and Sparrowhawks are common around here but could this really be my first Goshawk in France?

Truth is I'll probably never know .... and still no idea how I managed to snap 2 raptors in the space of 10 seconds, maybe one was chasing the other?!!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

'You've got to hide your love away'

 If you're a Beatles purist, you'll probably hate this - my take on 'You've got to hide your love away'

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sparkling snow and light around Saulge

Lovely sunny day again yesterday ... not exactly shirt sleeve sunny, we're still in minus figures by day, but radiant blue skies and sparkling light made for some really nice shots in and around Saulge this morning and later on in the day.

Tired of looking at snow and ice photographs from across Europe and on your friend's facebook pages? Hope not because although there is a limit to how many times you can make the snow bound terrain and frozen waterways look good on film, I've discovered some new angles! Like this simple image of a snowy field (right). I love the contrast of those compacted mounds and dimples in the foreground with that stunning blue sky. Interesting huh!?

The River Gartempe is almost completely frozen over at Saulge now with just a tiny rivulet still running on the Northern side of the bridge (I'd take that tiny flow in my water pipes right now!), and I must say that the bridge itself is looking more splendid than usual in the Winter sun

Now then, on that last photograph you might be able to spot some big black birds in the tree tops behind the bridge ...... there you go, you've got em! 'Just a bunch of crows in a tree Baggins' you may say! Well yes you may say that and you would be partly correct, they are members of the crow family but these are Rooks as a pose to Carrion Crows. Many folk just see a big black bird and think 'crow' and think no more about it but apart from the 'bigness' and the 'blackness' they are quite different species and one of the most intelligent of birds to boot!

There's an old saying that goes 'a Crow in a crowd is a Rook, a Rook on its own is a Crow' .... Rooks are very social birds and are almost always seen in flocks, whilst Carrion Crows are more likely to be seen singly or in small family groups. Carrion Crows have black beaks whilst Rooks have a very distinct grey / bony beak and look vaguely sinister (they're the original Hitchcock scary bird!). Both species nest early in the year (February) and you can see some territorial squabbling going on in the picture below - this in fact a close up of the aforementioned birds behind the bridge (what would I do without my super 500ml lense!)
And on this pic of a Rook in flight (right) you can clearly see that monstrous bony beak! The more I look at this pic the more I like it and reckon it's the best Rook photograph I've taken to date .... you can even pick out it's rib cage if you look closely!

It was all a bit dicey down by the river's edge and to get some of these shots I had to tread very carefully, it was difficult to judge whether I was standing on the bank or the river and was probably being a tad foolish (nothing new there then!) ... this was borne out just before I took this shot -

My knee went straight through the ice! Good job it was shallow but my was that a shock .... cold too!

Whilst I was berating myself for being so stupid and nursing my cold and bruised knee, this beautiful pale phase Common Buzzard floated across the river. I'd like to think that being an avian friendly kind of chap, that he (or she .... its difficult to tell these days) was maybe looking out for me, making sure I was ok, that sort of mystical man / creature phenomenon, maybe in my slightly distressed state I was easy prey (now I'm being silly) ... in actual fact I think he (or she) just fancied being a star on my blog!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chilly in La Macherie but the sun makes an entrance!

Another sub zero day here in La Macherie (-10 this morning!) but we have to go out because the sun is shining, my pipes are still frozen solid so no chance of a hot shower and of course Balloo is raring to go .... he's enjoying all the snow, running just as fast and I'm convinced he's skidding around on purpose!

The river Gartemps is completely frozen over in parts and even here where it flows really quickly its beginning to go at the edges as you can see.
Balloo still thinks he can go in for a splash around though .... no chance matey, look as longingly as you like but you're staying just where you are!

Its lovely to see the sun out, making the fresh, crisp snow positively glisten and I just love the crunchy feeling under-foot as I walk and that hint of warmth on my face. Could have done with sunglasses this morning it was that bright!

I disturbed a Common Snipe (right)  and a Woodcock (left)during my trek out, both long billed birds (the latter is often shot at) that really struggle to penetrate the ground and therefore feed in cold snaps. Snipes are usually to be found probing around on the edges of ponds whilst Woodcock favour the forest floor but in weather like this they can often be seen in unusual places such as roadsides or even gardens as they search for soft ground to probe.

On the way back up the hill to La Macherie I was trying (unsuccessfully) to photograph a couple of Wrens when I noticed this Blackbird sunning itself on one of the few bits of earth not covered in snow ..... he wasn't giving up that spot for anybody, never flinched a feather as I walked right up to him. Ok, probably one of the commonest birds in France, especially at this time of the year but even the most ubiquitous of birds can look good in the right light!

Later on in the day I managed to capture a few decent photographs of Long Tailed Tits as I walked along a hedgerow just outside the village, again a common enough bird but in the right light ....
In actual fact I spent nearly 20 minutes and took maybe 30 pics trying to get some good shots and by the end of it my fingers were so numb with cold I had to give up but these 3 shots came out pretty nicely. The big problem was that although they were quite close they were flitting about like mad in a very twiggy tree which meant that many of the shots were obscured .... ah but it's all in the challenge and worth nearly getting frostbite!

Well I've just succeeded in raising the temperature in my kitchen to 10 degrees C with the aid of both paraffin and electric heaters so time to leave my cosy lounge and cook some food!

I leave you with another nice sunset, yesterday it was Askam Bryan, Yorkshire ... today is an equally chilly La Macherie sundown .....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A wonderful Winter walk in Yorkshire and back to the Vienne and minus 15!

Flew back today after spending a very pleasurable week in my home town of York (N.Yorks, UK) and in the company of my outstanding fiancee Gabrielle. Certainly not as cold there as it is back here in the middle of France - I've returned to -15C, frozen pipes and 10" of snow! As I write I'm defrosting bowls of snow in front of a roaring fire so that I can make myself a cup of coffee whilst Balloo's frozen water bowl is likewise defrosting so that he can slake his thirst. The cistern on the toilet is just a square block of ice and has cracked the pot surround, so obvious issues there ..... there's always a bucket I suppose but visiting the bathroom is like stepping back into the ice age!

So I'm staying put in the only warm place in the barn, in front of the wood burner ... oh and I have Bailey's courtesy of a special offer in duty free at East Midlands airport - so I'm more or less sorted!

Took my point n shoot camera back to the UK and whilst out on a late afternoon walk around the fields in Askham Bryan with Gabz I took these snaps.

This was a classic point and shoot moment as 2 happy girls ran past in the snow while we were walking through the Church yard ... to be honest Gabz was slightly unsure about whether I should be taking such pictures but I think its anonymous enough and I'm pleased with the shot

No anonymous girls in this shot, Gabz up and over a stile!

The evening sunlight, low in the sky was playing all sorts of tricks and in this shot the diffused light is because the setting sun was shining through a distant gate and illuminating the low lying freezing fog that began to chill us to the bone!

Talk about the 'bleak mid winter'! If you look closely you can see a cold looking moon (a sliver away from being a full one) rising in the background to this chilly hedgerow scene, but honestly who would be striding out on such an evening!

All credit to Gabz for spotting the setting sun through the mist as we trudged happily back for a cup of hot tea, I would have walked past this misty sunset (well it was on my blind side!). Wasn't sure which of the 2 pics came out best so I've posted both.

A lovely walk but hot tea never tasted so good afterwards!

Ok, well it was way too late to venture out with my camera on my return to La Macherie but tomorrow will see me out and about and I'm sure there are some wonderful Winter scenes out there just waiting to be captured ... tomorrow, but for now it's back to my good friend Mr Bailey and my guitar mistress Takemine!