Archive for September, 2012

Irish Boy

September 29, 2012

Yes, 50% of me, and proud of it, too.

I’ve not dropped my habit of titling my blogs after music. “Irish Boy” is the opening track of Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack album to the movie “Cal”. It’s a piece of music I have loved for many years now, and I have “history” with it. It surfaced today while I was sitting editing photographs from my day out in the Alps (I’m still in Chamonix, as I write). I have it as the ringtone on my ‘phone, but I have the whole album on there, too.  It’s also the piece of music I want to be played out to at my funeral, though (you’ll be glad to know) that’s not what hearing it again brought to mind.

There was a time when I supplemented my meagre salary by touring a tape/slide show based around my regular trips to the Italian Dolomites. Tape/slide stuff was expensive. Two projectors (at least) and a music player that would syncronise the pictures with music and change the photos as it played. Plus loudspeakers suitable to the venue, and occasionally a screen, too, though I eventually insisted that this be provided by my hosts. The artistic opportunities were huge, especially for fade/dissolve transitions between shots. I’ll openly admit I was hugely influenced in what I did by seeing several shows by photographer and writer, and all-round very good bloke, John Beatty, who I was once honoured to host at a local fund-raising event. Tape/slide is also now pretty much dead, I guess; overtaken by laptop and digital projector-based evolution.

Not only was the stuff expensive, it was heavy and cumbersome. Mine fitted into three large cases and several carrier bags full of leads and plugs. Setting up would take ages. I usually had help to cart the stuff about. One evening my sherpa moaned “I feel like we’re moving mountains”. The first seeds of the name of my website were thus sown. A few months later, I showed a set of photos I was very proud of, at a show in an upstairs room of a pub, and a woman came up to me afterwards to say “Those mountains were very moving”. What else could I now use as a title. “Moving Mountains” was born.

One of the things about my shows I know (‘cos they told me) people found really drew them in was my choice of music to go with the photos. Very often, I’d use all or most of the “Cal” album. Even when the shows were based around a medly of all kinds of tracks, they’d invariably end with the album’s final track “The Long Road“, and always, but always begin with “Irish Boy”.

Therefore, it’s become a piece of music I relate to in a very visual sense. I have little difficulty recalling many of the images that went with it. I am also one of many people blessed with sound-colour synaesthesia Basically, hear sound, see colour. It’s had me wondering whether there’s a form of the condition where you can see sights and hear music. Now, that would have been a really useful thing back in the tape/slide days!

I have just over a week left here in Chamonix. I was going to have an extended trip home. I’ve just decided against it, and booked my return journey accommodation. I really just felt like this stay here would be too tough an act to follow. If you want to see what I mean, have a look at the most recent dozen or so photos on my gallery at the 500px web site. I can’t match that on my homeward trip!


Brothers In Arms

September 24, 2012

I have just been spooked half out of my life. Really and truly. Like this:

As I write, I am still in Chamonix, where I’m taking an extended break. Chamonix is a bit of a gathering place for people of all nationalities, and one of the local sports – for me anyway – is to sit taking coffee outside the patisserie in the main street, and to see whether you can work out the nationalities of those walking past. It can be quite hard to do with fellow mountain-lovers. The gear tends to be pretty similar wherever you’re from,, although a few nations have more fashion-victims than others.

Sometimes the Brits are unmistakable, and this was the case this time. Down the street came a prematurely grey-haired guy, wearing an old blue Berghaus jacket and blue jeans. His slightly shambolling walk, one hand in one pocket, the other tucked under the strap of his rucksack was that of climbers and walkers hanging out in a mountain town on a wet day anywhere in Europe. And this was a wet day that could have been anywhere in Europe. What really caught my attention, though, was that this was a familiar figure. It was the walk that gave it away. Forgetting I’d not yet paid for my coffee and bun, I shot out into the street and greeted him: “Hello Steve!”

And as soon as the words had left my mouth, I knew I was wrong. This wasn’t Steve (name changed). Steve had been a work colleague the best part of twenty years ago. He was, I think they’d have said then and now, a “singular” individual. An amazingly talented guy, hugely well read; the first person I ever heard talking about what we’d now call open data (yes, even in the 1990s); gifted with a mathematical brain I could only wonder at. He’d built his own house, travelled all over the world. And, if you had the knack, he was a wonderful conversationalist. Not many had that knack, so most found him taciturn and remote. Happily, he and I hit it off greatly. It was a time when I was spending several months each year in northern Italy and the Dolomites, and I know Steve was envious of my opportunity. He joined me on one of the hut touring/via ferrata climbing holidays I used to lead, in a small group of a dozen people, but such was his experience of other parts of the world, that I actually think he was a bit non-plussed with the Dolomites. One of very few I can say that about.

No, this wasn’t Steve I met this afternoon. Because Steve had been killed in about 2001 in a stupid minibus accident somewhere on the other side of the world. There was no UK funeral, and no service of remembrance. Those who knew Steve never really had a chance to grieve for his passing. To me, his life has always been the epitome of the Dr Seuss saying “Don’t be sad because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I actually only came by that quote a couple of years ago, and it filled several gaps in my emotions. The one relating to Steve in particular.

I was immediately prepared to die of embarrassment in the street in Chamonix. I could see now that the face and hairline were slightly different. I’d made a classic gaffe, and was hoping the guy was also Brit, so that we could laugh it off together with no language barrier. I was singularly unprepared for what happened next.

“No, I’m not Steve. I’m John. Steve was my brother but he’s been dead a few years now. Who are you?”

I think I almost forgot who I was. I felt like someone had just hit me with a hammer. I gabbled out a semi-coherent apology-cum-explanation. We looked at each other, and then both exploded into laughter, with me also trying to fight back some very genuine tears.

“Steve would have loved that just then” said John. “You know, there’s not a day goes by when I don’t miss him? He was ten years older than me, but we were very close.”

Steve had been the sort who had never let on that he had a brother, close or not.

We sat and had a brief coffee. Brief, because John was on his way to catch a train somewhere, and we did what you do in such circumstances, and shared some tales of the guy we knew. Then John left for his train. I walked back to my apartment, numbed beyond belief by what had happened.

It was only when I turned the key in my front door that I realised I’d not swapped addresses with John. I’d no idea where he was living and no means to contact him. I began to feel that I’d had an encounter with a ghost, and that the whole thing hadn’t happened. But it did, just over an hour and a half ago.

Here Comes The Sun

September 16, 2012

Forgive me blogsite, for I have sinned. It has been one month since my last blogging.

Actually, there wasn’t all that much to say about most of that time. “Ouch” would just about cover it all. My injured foot continued to plague me and make training if not actually impossible, at least very difficult. At the beginning of September, I was down to race three times in a day at the Final competition of the SCVAC Masters Leagues. Bit optimistic, but as team manager, I couldn’t really say no. Probably needless to say, my foot failed in the first race, and I spent the rest of the day as a spectator. A noisy one, mind. And we won the match, so I don’t feel too bad about asking a colleague to stand in for me at very little notice.

I left for Chamonix, in the French Alps, the very next day. Part of me couldn’t wait to leave the country. Another part of me wondered whether this trip was going to be a good idea – nearly 6 weeks in one place (not my style) and loads of temptation to do further damage to my foot while walking in the mountains. I took it very easy travelling out. Two overnight stops was overkill, but as I slept 12 hours both nights while travelling, I think it was a good idea. Both days were pretty similar to the first two days of my trip out to Italy this time last year – one day basically blatting down motorways, and one seeing France from the back-roads. I reached Chamonix on a glorious afternoon – a complete change to the rather indifferent weather I’d had here a year back, on the homeward leg of my 3,500 mile journey to celebrate leaving “proper work”.

So, as I write, I am firmly installed in a rather nice apartment in a pleasant and very quiet block, about four minutes walk from the centre of the town, 30 seconds away from the Aiguille du Midi lift system, and so on. My other half is here at the moment, staying for a fortnight in all. But what is really good is the weather.

Septembers in the Alps can be very good indeed. In my time, I’ve spent many happy weeks in the Dolomites between August and October, and my brief visit there again last year reminded me how great it can be. I’ve been far less fortunate with Chamonix up to now. I’ve often arrived and left in bad weather, and remember not a great deal else in between. It was that feeling that I had “unfinished business” with the place that brought me back here, and a persuasion that being here for a decent length of time might give me at least one weather break.

I wasn’t prepared for the sheer brilliance of my first few days, though. No way was I going to watch that weather from the valleys. I had three days out, armed with an over-heavy rucsac full of camera gear, convincing myself that it hurt because I was acclimatising. Of course, it really hurt because I was being a prat with a bad foot and I was carrying far too much. But oh, the weather. Chamonix at its best, even if its best often is several hours walk above the valley floor. Forgove me if I immediately felt sort of “vindicated” in making this my destination.

The weather stayed fine for my first week here, then became seriously “orageuse”, as the excellent local weather forecasts have it, for 36 very wet and stormy hours. They’ve done a lot in the Alps to harness water power and the wind. Surely someone can do something with the lightning? Then, it cleared up overnight, and the sun came out again. The scenery was even better, because the storms had brought the first of the autumn snow everywhere above 2,300 metres high. We spent several days walking at around the new snow-line while I pigged out with the camera. I’ve posted some of the best on my gallery at the wonderful 500px photosharing site

And for now, that’s the shape of it. Might be more words soon. Certainly going to be more photos, so keep an eye on that site.