Social distancing (and self-isolation): end of week 5 – back garden stargazing special

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Indoors for much of this week: working, homeschooling and, most pressingly, looking after a Covid patient (thankfully over the worst and getting better now but – and while I realise this is not especially practical advice – I really, really recommend not catching it if you possibly can).

The pics above and below are from an exploratory go at astrophotography earlier in the week, mostly as an evening distraction once the rest of the family had gone to bed. I’m not sure the conversion to WordPress-friendly jpegs will do the results justice, but I was pleased with what I managed with my Fuji Xt-20 on a tripod, and a somewhat hit-and-hope approach to exposure parameters.

Since the weather’s been dry and the air pollution dropped away dramatically we’ve been able to see the stars in a way I’ve never experienced in semi-suburban south-east London before. The Plough has been particularly prominent so I focused most of my efforts on that. We’re due some wet weather this week; once that’s cleared I might have another go as the constellations move on.

One problem with photographing the sky at night is that, beyond the technical challenges, is that unlike what I usually shoot, where my camera is significantly more than good enough for 95% of situations, a bigger, faster sensor would definitely produce better results in the dark. I’ve probably spent enough money recently, though.

One result of our now-necessary self-isolation is that the horizons seem to have shrunk even further than they had before. Maybe this was a subconscious prompt for looking at the stars… I find that when I’m focused on the day-to-day routine then the upsides of this peculiar moment can seem quite appealing: lunch with the family every day; more time for guitar practise; tidying the garden; the pleasures of regular deliveries to break up the day (this week brought local bread, groceries via friends, a new wireless router, some extension cables, and other domestic items that suddenly seem very important), and so on. When I look beyond the day-to-day, though, I find I’m really badly missing the routine parts of life-before: Parkrun with friends, swimming at the lido, socialising with actual people, popping to the pub and talking about whatever we used to talk about, playing music with other people… Despite some ‘end the lockdown’ noises in the press, I don’t see this ending soon, however. We’ve got to push on and get through it somehow, but I worry that in the necessity of making it happen we underestimate just how strange and unnatural this period of time is, how difficult it is for so many people, and the trade-offs we’re making.

Other news and diversions:

  • Had a first jazz guitar lesson via Skype. Feels like jumping into a new rabbit hole, but there’s probably never been a better time for me to try it.
  • Listening to the Tokyo Jazz Joints podcast and daydreaming about opening a South East London Jazz Micropub. I’m sure it would be very popular (with about 3 other people).
  • Dabbling – like every bloke in my demographic – with a sourdough starter. It smells quite unpleasant and I’m not convinced it’s working, but it’s something to do…
  • Reading Johnny Pitts’ ‘Afropean’ book. An unexpected side-effect of which, no doubt lockdown-related, is a strong desire to holiday in a mundane suburb of a large European city.

Social distancing: end of week 4

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Black and white fern
A grey day and not much else to do but photograph in the back garden in between half-hearted attempts to tidy and clean the house. We are self-isolating and a day with no real commitments is something of a relief between weeks of juggling work and homeschooling.

Attention is disproportionately focused on deliveries at the moment: what will come to the door today, as we rely on delivery services for food and partly entertain ourselves in a splurge of online consumerism (or attempt to stimulate the economy, I tell myself). This week brought the iMac I’ve been promising myself for some time, a bike tyre, and the new Four Tet record. We hope Ocado will deliver this evening, having given up on Sainsbury’s; sometime in the next week or so we should have some more plants delivered to fill up the borders of the garden (it doesn’t take much in a garden the size of ours). I will probably crack and order a record from Sounds of the Universe or similar, given that it’s virtual Record Store Day.

These ferns grow in the corner of the garden that gets virtually no light; I love the contrast you get between the new bright green leaves and the previous years’ growth.

Black and white fernBlack and white fern

Social distancing: end of week one

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It doesn’t need saying that these are very strange times: stuck at home for most of the day, allowed a trip to the shops, and a daily amount of exercise. Very grateful that the family are all healthy, our employers are being sensible, and we live in a house with enough room for three of us to work, rest and play without being on top of each other all day. Very aware that plenty of others are in a far worse situation.

We’ve been working from home for a fortnight, and that works fine (most of my colleagues are in Ireland and the US; our clients are spread all around the world). Schools closed last Friday, though, and homeschooling at the same time as working is challenging. The days and week felt very long; it’s a good while since I last slept 9 hours straight on a Friday night, but I managed it last night.

The sudden removal of all routine from the weekends is particularly strange: no Parkrun (and the realisation that I won’t get to 100 Parkruns at the turn of the year as I’d hoped); no dance classes or guitar lessons; no popping into cafes or going out for dinner; all gigs with the band cancelled; no Sunday afternoon trips to see kids’ film at the cinema; and no simply going to the pub for the evening. We’re even being discouraged from spring cleaning as the council’s bin service is under pressure (as an aside, Greenwich Council seem to have risen to the challenge and are coping well with extraordinary circumstances – it’s to be hoped that all this will result in a change of Tory attitudes to the importance and funding of local authorities…).

At the same time, the many encouragements to write a book/read a classic/take up calligraphy/learn a language/generally self-improve on social media have largely raised a hollow laugh; Monday-Friday I felt like I had even less spare time than before, even without commuting. There have been some diversions, though:

  • A live-streamed Alasdair Roberts performance from Cafe OTO. I expect they’ve stopped doing these now, but it really worked – and made me glad I dragged myself there back in the cold days of January for a couple of gigs
  • Working through a couple of records that have come in the post:
    • Shabaka and the Ancestors’ ‘We Are Sent Here By History’. Not bad, but no banger like the last Sons of Kemet album; a lot of it feels a bit tentative.
    • J Jazz Volume 2, from the BBE label. Really good Japanese jazz compilation from, as a friend on Twitter said ‘a parallel universe where the classic Coltrane quartet never split up’
  • The Miles Davis documentary on BBC2/iPlayer. A familiar story but some new footage and interviews I’d not seen before. Would have liked a little more on the In A Silent Way era (a more important and significant album than Bitches Brew, if you ask me), but you can’t have everything.
  • Working my way through ‘Bass, Mids, Tops‘, an oral history of UK soundsystem culture and related music scenes.

I’ve been trying to get out for the evening government-approved walk each day and have taken the opportunity to take some photos around the neighbourhood. I’m not sure how long I can keep this up without too much repetition, but it’s something to do and I’ve enjoyed the instagram interactions while stuck indoors afterwards – nice reminders that there’s a world of people still out there.

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January’s nearly done

A sculptural skip arrangement in Charlton, southeast London

Some items, actions and events of note from the last week (some good, one bad)

  • The great Anthony Braxton at Cafe OTO on Tuesday
  • A trip to Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights with daughter: a nice evening out and break in the school/work routine:
  • A Saturday afternoon with visiting friends doing an ‘introduction to archery’ course in Greenwich. Don’t think I’ll take it up as a regular hobby, but it was fun
  • A post-archery riverside tour of Greenwich (and its pubs) with the same visiting friends; a reminder that this is a pretty great place to live (even in January):
  • Awake on Sunday morning, though, to the news that a local bank and takeaway had been targeted by racists spraying antisemitic graffiti overnight. A deeply depressing reminder of what lurks beneath in any of our neighbourhoods, and how the far right has become emboldened in recent years. It’s to be hoped that there is the CCTV footage to find and prosecute the perpetrators.
  • To the cinema for Armani Ianucci’s David Copperfield: great fun, and cleverly done. A good way to spend a damp and grey Sunday afternoon.

Anthony Braxton ‘Standards’ at Cafe OTO – January 2020

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This week I was lucky to see Anthony Braxton performing at a sold out Cafe OTO, the last night of a three show residence in which he performed standards with a quartet.

It was a great experience, and a treat to sit so close to the musicians and watch them interact through the songs. Not every piece worked, but even those that didn’t had something interesting going on, and those that did – particularly Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance – were pretty sublime.

The quartet was:

Anthony Braxton – saxophone

Alexander Hawkins – piano

Neil Charles – double bass

Stephen Davies – drums

January 2020 so far

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Greenwich Park, 19 January 2020

A start-of-the-year update, having failed to post at all since Christmas 2018, starting with things I can remember happening in 2019: freelance life turned into a permanent job (good so far!); I played some local gigs and got a bit better at the guitar (and probably a bit worse at photography through lack of practise); had a small amount of skin cancer removed (big thanks to Guy’s & St. Thomas’ for that); got more enthused about exercise than I ever imagined was likely, completing my 50th Parkrun on NYD, and hugely improving my front crawl technique thanks to Charlton Lido’s Swim Doctor lessons; bought more jazz records than was likely sensible, while just about stepping back from the brink of going Full Collector; went to a Play-off Final (highly recommended if 90 mins of absolutely unbearable tension is your thing); helped launch Flyover Media CIC; didn’t go to many gigs through a mixture of work commitments and a lack of much I wanted to see (the indie reformation/nostalgia scene has run its course, I think); and… various other things which I may or may not have recorded on Instagram as I went.

2020 has already been somewhat busier than I expected. A period of post-surgery recovery followed by the ubiquitous chest infection, plus lots of work meant I didn’t do much in November and January, so I’ve not really been in the mood for a socially-withdrawn abstemious January.

January so far:

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Out and about around the neighbourhood on 12th Night

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Monday = bin day (Just another mannequin Monday)

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Charlton Lido after nearly 3 month break following surgery and general winter ailments. Tremendous to be back there.

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Peter Brotzmann playing solo sax at Cafe OTO. This will be the year I go there more often…

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Hilly Fields, 8.50am on a Saturday morning. I’ve now done 30 Parkruns here, including my 50th on New Year’s Day; it’s a challenging course, particularly in January with a mixture of mud and frost underfoot, but I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an interesting and friendly run in SE London. 

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Enjoyed the Ed Ruscha rooms at Tate Modern: the advantage of it being a non-paid for, non-blockbuster show is that hardly anyone was in there and you could actually see the pictures.

Other January things:

  • Enjoyed subbing a Kevin Nolan match report for the Charlton Champion
  • Took daughter and friend to a live show at the Planetarium in Greenwich. Really an underrated London experience: you get a nice lie down in a darkened room; clever astronomers tell you interesting things; and at the end they remind you how infinitesimally small we are in galactic terms – very useful perspective before the working week starts again.
  • Played a fun gig at the Pelton Arms: never done a show before where the dancing was interrupted by two women planking for an extended period. Dry January isn’t all that popular, really…
  • Saw Richard III at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse: excellent, engaging and pretty gruesome.

 

More to follow, I guess. Maybe I’ll not leave it a year to post again. Hope your Jan’s going ok.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas

Seasonally-adjusted Angel of the North

Wishing you a Merry Christmas from the north-east of England. We’re doing the annual tour of the relatives for Christmas week. The end of 2018 has been busy with the adjustment to freelance life, a determined effort to get fitter, a few gigs, and a bit of an uptick in photographic activity (little of which I’ve got round to recording here). I hope to carry on 2019 in much the same way, if I can (though hopefully remembering to post here more often). May you have a peaceful end of 2018 and start of 2019.

Durham Cathedral on Christmas Eve

Making, selling, delivering: Charlton Champion postcards

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A few weeks I woke up with a bright idea: why not turn some of my local photos into a postcard and sell them to support The Charlton Champion, the community website that I help to run. We’ve been on a fundraising drive recently, setting up Patreon and Ko-fi accounts in order to generate some money to help pay the site’s running costs and – hopefully – to pay some contributors. The amounts we’re getting are not (yet) life-changing, but getting something in has provided a good boost and incentive to keep the site going.

It struck me that postcards might prove popular, and would also help raise awareness of the site as people sent them out, passed to friends, and so on.

I spent some time choosing pictures from my (not brilliantly ordered) archive and found four that showed different sides to Charlton. My InDesign skills won’t get me employed in a proper artworking department, but I managed to create a retro-tinged template, added the photos, then sent them off to print.

The first opportunity to sell them came at a pop-up shop that runs monthly in an old shop near my home. I’ve got to know the makers who sell from the shop over the last few months, and it was good to get their positive feedback on the postcards.

Next I put them up on the Charlton Champion’s social accounts (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) and waited for the orders to come in. And, for a few hours, nothing happened – then a flurry of orders that saw the first print run sold out later that day. I sent another batch off to print and set off round the neighbourhood on my bike making deliveries. At the time of writing we’ve sold nearly 250.

I’m not sure what comes next (tea towels? stress balls?), and at postcard margins this enterprise is unlikely to make me rich, but it’s been an enormously gratifying project, that’s led to some nice conversations and connections.

Anyway, you can order them here. £1 each, discounts for buying in bulk….

And if you’ve ever accidentally become a local postcard entrepreneur then get in touch and let’s compare notes…

Street portraits – November 2018

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South Kensington street portrait - November 2018
I spent a fun day on Saturday taking part in a street portraiture workshop run by Niall McDiarmid at the V&A. These are the three best shots I got when he sent us out into the street in the afternoon. Now I just need to go and shoot a load more to build up my portraits portfolio.

Roller hockey player - Hyde Park Street Portrait - November 2018 Twins - South Kensington Street Portraits - November 2018

‘Champions 4 Change’ boxing academy, Charlton – October 2018

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[I thought I’d published this back in mid-October, but there it was, stuck in my Drafts folder. Since I wrote it I’ve been back to the club a few times and seem to have taken up over-40’s boxing classes as a regular weekly activity. To say that I was surprised to find myself browsing boxing gloves in Decathlon recently would be a considerable understatement]

I spent a really lovely Saturday morning photographing Champions 4 Change, a boxing club at St Thomas’ church in Charlton that does outreach sessions for underprivileged kids, particularly child carers. I was massively impressed with the way the whole thing was run. There was a really positive atmosphere, and the kids were just great; they start learning boxing techniques and doing a lot of fitness work, then the teenagers are put through GB boxing qualifications and go on to help teach the over-40 classes, amongst other things.

I wrote about in more detail for the Charlton Champion here, and put together an extended gallery of pictures here.


Champions 4 Change