China, through the lens

When travelling one thing I always love to do is take to the local streets late at night. I find that the atmospheres tend to be more calm and thoughtful than they are during the day, playing well to my reflective side. There isn’t the rush to get to work or pick up the shopping or run an errand or get the kids to school. Instead ones, twos and threes gather on tables inside and outside bars and restaurants to laugh, catch up, scroll through their phones or whatever. Street vendors put slabs of raw meat on the grill whilst serving a regular. Taxi drivers lean against their cars as they exchange opinions and wait (and compete!) for their next punter. Workers walk the pavement home after a long day in the office. Children play as mum wraps up her market stall for the day.

This was typical of what I saw on a recent trip to China, where I visited Chengdu, Kanding and Tagong, in China’s Sichuan province. My Fujifilm x70 travelled with me and a few of the late night shots I took with it are below, along with a selection of other photos I took. Enjoy!

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Lacock, through the lens

I headed to Lacock last Monday (Spring bank holiday) thinking that it would be its buildings or quaint streets or afternoon tea at King John Hunting’s Lodge (seriously good) that would leave the big mark. After all that’s why I was heading there in the first place. But instead it was a gentleman who struck the sweetest chord. I was taking some photographs and he strolled into view. He looked so content, just taking in the streets and sounds. Realising he was in my picture he offered a friendly smile. I lowered my camera and returned the gesture. A couple of minutes later I noticed him quietly hold back from the rest of his party to make sure an elderly gentleman, who was slowly crossing the road with a heavy bag of shopping, was okay. It was touching. I saw this gentleman only briefly, but he seemed to me to be a chap simply enjoying the day, breathing in the life of every moment, whilst keeping a watchful eye out for others. A winning combination.

Below are a few shots of my afternoon in Lacock. The streets were a hive of activity with many people visiting the village for the scarecrow trail. All pictures were taken through a Fujifilm x70.

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Timely words

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Sometimes the words we need to hear come from the most unexpected places. I had just arrived to work and was heading into my office. Just outside, high up on some scaffolding, was Ray, a delightful, salt-of-the-earth chap who was doing some maintenance work on the building. I first met Ray the previous week in the toilet, immediately hitting it off after he made a comment about “feeling lighter” as he exited a cubicle. And so with my head raised we exchanged good mornings before he began talking — or rather shouting given his high vantage point — about the need to take breaks, particularly in roles that require sitting in front of computer all day. I concurred. And then he made a remark that hit me square on. To this day I am not sure what prompted it because it didn’t quite fit the context of our conversation — or if it did I, still waking from my early morning slumber, missed it. But anyway his words were: “Don’t beat yourself up too much.” Little did he know that I had been doing exactly that on the long 40-minute drive to work. The comment stayed with me all day, a tender and graceful refrain to the barrage of unwanted thoughts and recollections that were threatening to overwhelm me. So for toilet chats and timely words — and my new friend Ray — thank you God.

A very odd collection of best-ofs from 2017

It’s sometimes the little things that bring the greatest joys. Indeed, they can often be the very things that carry us through another bad day. I’ve been reminded of this again as another year draws to a close — finds, gifts, moments that give us a leap just when we need it. Below I have jotted down some best-ofs from the past year. They’ve put colour into the bad days and made the good days even sweeter.

Happy New Year folks. Here’s to us all being greeted with a whole lot of little things in 2018…

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Bruges, Amsterdam + Ghent, through the lens

Two years ago family from the Netherlands visited. During one conversation in our kitchen I threw out the possibility of me visiting them, a trip that would involve shorts stays in other nearby cities. And I would drive (I’ve never driven on the continent).

Now if I am being honest, though excited by the possibility of the trip, a tiny part of me wondered whether it would end up being another one of those plans that fades into oblivion. I’ve seen it happen all too often.

Like me do you also find it tempting to view some dreams and ambitions and plans with a heavy dose of scepticism? It will never happen. Too much to do. Too many obstacles. Too expensive. But they can. And what is remarkable is that to make things happen sometimes all that is required is a few small decisions here and there: send a WhatsApp message to family or friends, look at prices online, book days off work, get out the map, don’t buy another take out coffee and instead save some pounds.

On their own these are so small, requiring minimal effort, and yet over time they conspire towards something cool happening. And then one bright autumn day, standing atop a ferry with the wind from the English Channel hammering sweetly against your face, you’ll whisper to yourself, ‘Oh yeh, it can be done.’

Here are a few photographs (using a Fujifilm x70) of my sojourn in Belgium and the Netherlands…

Bruges

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Amsterdam

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Ghent

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Do you ever wonder…

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Do you ever wonder how many photographs have been taken that included you without your knowledge? Maybe one ended up on an Instagram feed, or perhaps in an advertisement or newspaper or a friend’s official wedding photo collection? I don’t mean in a creepy or dodgy way. Just photographs we happened to be in or were taken for some artistic merit. I’ve been thinking about this having read a few pieces from The Guardian’s fascinating ‘That’s me in the picture’ section. It’s a question I like to ponder because we will never fully know. But more than that I like to think it speaks of a bigger, more significant, reality. How many times have we turned up in another person’s life in a way unbeknown to us? To us we’ve simply been going about our 9-5, when in fact somewhere along the way we’ve said or done or given something that’s prompted them to get their camera out. A moment to frame and put on the mantelpiece of their life. In a world where information and knowledge about almost everything and anything lays at the click of a button, it’s nice to have a few unknowns, such as these, that pave the way to imagination and mystery and romance…

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” – Hebrews 13:1-2

A thought on prayer by George MacDonald

What a treat it is to happen across some hearty words first thing in the morning. Like a sumptuous breakfast (but better) they can help bounce us out of any early morning blues and into the day’s adventures. Yesterday morning I came across a terrific few lines on prayer by George MacDonald. Here they are for anyone else looking for a spring in their step this summer Saturday morning…

“‘But if God is so good as you represent Him, and if He knows all that we need, and better far than we do ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask Him for anything?’ I answer, What if He knows Prayer to be the one thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need — the need of Himself? … Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need: prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer … So begins a communion, a taking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer, yea, of existence itself in its infinite phases. We must ask that we may receive: but that we should receive what we ask in respect of our lower needs, is not God’s end in making us pray, for He could give us everything without that: to bring His child to his knee, God withholds that man may ask.”

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