SOMERSET LEVELS 432 – WALKING WESTON’S STREETS 2

 

 

Local theatre

(best viewed enlarged – click onto it twice)

Weston-super-Mare, my home town, on the coast where the Somerset Levels run down into the Bristol Channel – the local, somewhat muddy, version of the sea.  Following a recent reunion with age-old friends there (here), I’ve been visiting Weston again, and walking streets echoing with things remembered – sometimes only half-remembered –  from over half a century ago.

Weston is a seaside town and, like seaside towns the UK over, it is experiencing something of an economic downturn – the era of the family seaside holiday in uncertain British weather is long past, due to cheap holidays in warmer and far more reliable, foreign climes.  So, there is to Weston something of the cheap and cheerful, a – to me, anyway – rather attractive tattiness at the edges, that makes walking here with a camera a pleasure – a definite feeling of not knowing what will appear next.  The Ghost of FATman Past perhaps?  Well, if he gives me half a chance, I’ll photograph him …

And so in Nov 2019 to pictures taken with an open mind – pictures which are, for better or for worse, in the main quite different from the preceding 400+ that I’ve posted of the Somerset Levels.  Some of them may be a little obscure / far out / radical / unexplained /  I don’t know… but I did mention photographing with an open mind, which means looking, on the spur of the moment, at anything and everything …    But, whatever, warts and all, I hope you’ll like (at least some of) these images.  (Click onto them to enlarge them)

Earlier posts in this series are here: 1 .

A short history of Weston is here.

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Wet morning

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Public seating

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Empty café

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PEOPLE 374 – VERY OLD FRIENDS (MONO)

 

 


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Life moves on.  As Dylan Thomas so wonderfully put it, in Under Milk Wood, “Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes.”

And so to an Italian restaurant in a reasonably run down, seaside town, and five people around a table – already hitting the electric sauce, if only moderately, and good naturedly corralling a waiter into taking a snap of the occasion.  He was somewhat disconcerted by “Focus on the wine bottle!”.  While after “Squeeze yourself right back into that corner to get us all in!”, it had to be explained that we were not in fact all planning to try and get in the corner with him.  Ah, the youth of today …  But, anyway, here is the result.

So just who are these smiling worthies?  Well, as a landmark, something to navigate by when in distress on the sea, the lolling lout front right (magnified by proximity to the TG-5’s wide angle lens I might add) is me >>> does my tum look big in this??? 

Then the two women are the partners of the two blokes opposite me.

But the two blokes opposite me are the thing really, because we three were in the same school in the 1960s.  I’ve been friends with one nearest the camera for 60 years at least, we were in adjacent primary schools.  And the other is one of the two luminaries responsible for getting me into birdwatching in 1967, an interest that was to later take me to Kenya for 12 wonderful years – an experience from which, thank goodness, I’ve never quite recovered.

And although three of us live locally, the other very special thing about this occasion is that the other couple live on the other side of the world, so that we see them only very occasionally.

And so here we three are, back in our home town as it happens, and not a stone’s throw from the primary schools where two of us started out.  And we are all stunned by the fact that, having known each other since our childhoods, we are now all approaching our 70th birthdays.

“Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes.”
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OUTER SUBURBS 134 – TAKING A CAMERA TO LUNCH … AND A FUN COMPETITION WITH FUN PRIZES!!!

 

 

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Out for lunch, and lunch taking awhile to appear. Well, it was a Monday, the school holidays are over, and maybe the restaurant hadn’t expected such a tide of (mostly) oldies.  Anyway, the TG-5 camera was in my pocket, as it often is, and so to looking around at the things on the table in front of me.  When you’re into photography, there’s always something to look at …

But when it eventually appeared, the large mixed grill couldn’t be faulted – a carnivore’s dream, accompanied by tomato, onion rings, mushroom and (an inexhaustible supply of) chips, and probably with more than a whole day’s quota of calories.  In fact it was almost more than I could eat; must be getting old …

And, as always, the Olympus TOUGH TG-5 camera was wonderfully compact, and very capable and adaptable.  I used spot metering; and also the Microscope Mode, which enables extreme close up shots with illumination from the camera; 1600 ISO; processing in Lightroom.  Each picture can be enlarged by clicking onto it to open a larger version in a separate window, and clicking onto that image to further enlarge it.

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3 >>> COMPETITION!!!  BIG PRIZES!!!  QUESTION: WHAT DOES THIS ARTWORK SHOW???  >>>  First prize: a night out in the Outer Suburbs with The FATman!!!  Second prize: two nights out in Outer Suburbs with The FATman!!!!!!  And furthermore, really entering into the spirit of the thing, The FATman will on this occasion lower his usual standards and dress code so that black tie will NOT be de rigueur!

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SOMERSET LEVELS AT 400 – TIME FOR A LITTLE LOOKING BACK …

 

400 POSTS

Well, my 400th post about the Somerset Levels.  This feels like something of a milestone.  Questions arise.  What are the Levels?  What are they to me?  And why do I continue to visit and photograph them?

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And rather than post a new image, here are some pictures from my earliest Somerset Levels posts, eight years or so ago – I hope you like them.  Click onto them to open larger versions in separate windows.  LOL! >>> and two of them concern food >>> well, this is FATman Photos ……

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1 – The view eastwards along the North Drain from the Jack’s Drove bridge on Tealham Moor; 17 Sept 2010.  Early morning mists are starting to be dissolved by the rising sun, just after 7am.  I walked on up Jack’s Drove to the low bridge, which is a favourite place of mine – and this scene was unfolding to the east.  Canon G11 Powershot; 140mm; Silver Efex Pro.

WHAT ARE THE SOMERSET LEVELS?

In summary: the Levels are fens and wet lowlands that cover around 650 sq. km. of the county of Somerset.  In the UK, they are second in extent only to the fens of East Anglia.  They have only relatively recently been reclaimed from the lakes and marshes that formerly covered the area, and they have a rich history going back to Neolithic, Roman and Anglo-Saxon times.

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There is a good general source of reference here .

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And the link to my first Levels post – on 21 May 2011 – is here .   It also has much background information.

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2 – The Chapter House Steps in Wells Cathedral, Somerset; 7 Jan 2005.   Near the top right of this photo, the steps can be seen turning right into the Chapter House.  Straight ahead, through the illuminated doorway, is the bridge that allowed the clergy to come directly into the cathedral from their lodgings, rather than having to be exposed to worldly temptations by mixing with the townspeople.  Olympus OM-4; 21mm; Agfa Scala monochrome slide film, rated at 400 ISO.

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THOUGHTS

I was brought up on the edge of the Levels and cycled on their welcoming flatnesses as a kid – and then left my native Somerset for a long time, much of which was spent abroad.  And it was 25 years ago, in 1994, after my return to England, that I started visiting the Levels regularly once more – mostly for birdwatching but, increasingly, for photography.  I’m something of a loner, and this trait is increasing as I approach my 70th year – my psychological friend thinks I’m happy with my own company and, for me, photography is something mostly done toute seule – wandering with a camera, not straining things or anything, but just looking at anything and everything.

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And the Levels, at least the parts that I visit – between the Mendip Hills to the north and the Polden Hills to the south –  are wonderful for this.  There are never that many people around and, quite often, there are only quite muted, natural sounds – running water, the wind, birds, cows.  The Levels have a great simplicity, they have nothing to prove; in an age increasingly dominated by the relentless onslaught of hype, image, buzzwords and the mass media, I see the Levels as a great antidote to all of this rush and increasing complexity, a great antidote to the pace of modern life.

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You might say that I’m getting back to Nature and I suppose I am, but it must be stressed that the Levels are not a natural landscape, they are an artificial, drained and farmed landscape. They certainly contain natural creatures – willows, skylarks, roe deer and (xxxxx!!!) horseflies to name a few, but that is not the same as being totally natural places – but then, in the Anthropocene (google it!), very few places remain actually “untouched”.

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3 – Meadow at Allermoor Farm, on Aller Moor, south of Wedmore; 24 May 2009.  The meadow itself is a pale, yellow-green haze – a friend said that she could almost smell the air scented by the thousands of blossoms.  The sunlit branches of the tree, just starting to come into leaf, seem to be reaching out over all of this late spring colour.  Nikon D700; 300mm; 400 ISO.

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4 – A busy morning in the kitchen at Sweets Tea Rooms, on the Blakeway between Bleak Farm and Turnpike House, on Westhay Moor; 25 July 2009.   Note the still warm rock cakes on the tray-  absolutely delicious!  There are three tearooms in this area and this is the one I know best – friendly owners, excellent, simple food and drink, toilets, parking – and an intriguing Peat & Science Museum in the adjoining building.  Nikon D700; 24mm; 1600 ISO.

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5 – Irate bull, Westhay Moor Drove, northwest of Lower Godney, in the Brue Valley; 28 Oct 2009.  This bull was in a field along Westhay Moor Drove and, as I walked along the drove towards it, I could see at once that he resented my presence.  As a first show of strength, he did what I’ve seen large animals like Eland and Buffalo do many times in Kenya – he turned sideways on to show me just how big he was.  He didn’t have any trouble impressing me.  His hind quarters were lean and strong, in the peak of physical condition and,  if he had his way, I knew that those powerful hind quarters would soon be driving his front end ferociously towards me – and his front end was an enormous, bludgeoning battering ram of bone and muscle, that would be guided on its course by two, very irate eyes.  However, feeling halfway secure – mainly because he and I were separated by a fence, a gate and a water-filled ditch (albeit the gate was only secured by a single rope), I continued along the drove and drew up level with him, whereupon he advanced right up to the gate, giving me the most malevolent of glares.  Not being able to resist the photo – and also being not a little out of my head – I knelt down in front of him and focused on his right eye to get this shot.  He kept pushing the gate but the rope held firm – and I’m still here to tell the story.  I like this picture.  His whole mien radiates malevolent bad temper, right on the edge of unstoppable violence.  His right eye is sharp, as is all the wonderfully tangled hair on his face, and I have rarely seen a glare of such malevolence.  Nikon D700; 400mm; 800 ISO.

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6 – A Cottage Special served up in the Cottage Café, Burnham-On-Sea, Somerset; 29 Apr 2010. Though I’m prone to slightly high cholesterol, I’m a complete sucker for a full English breakfast, as long as its not too greasy. I don’t eat many of them but they are amongst my favourite meals, with the taste combination of bacon, eggs and grilled tomatoes often being more than I can possibly put into words. This particular breakfast was a slight disappointment because the beans had been poured over the fried bread, demolishing much of the latter’s superb taste and, especially, texture. But just look at the locally made sausages, the slightly blackened tomatoes …. the black pudding …two eggs …. the lean rashers ….…. DO I EAT IT OR GET DOWN AND MAKE LOVE TO IT!!!???  The Cottage Café’s breakfasts are in general superb, possibly due to all of the ingredients being fried together in same large frying pan, which makes everything extremely flavoursome. Since we first started going there over a year ago, this eatery has moved up market – so what used to be the Belly Buster has now re-invented itself as the Cottage Special!  And, quite apart from all that gastronomic gush, I like this as a picture.  Canon PowerShot G11; 400 ISO.

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7 – Pollarded Willow in the mist, Tadham-Tealham Moor; 8 Aug 2003.  Originally in colour, I’ve reduced this image to low contrast and misty monochrome, so that it more resembles a pencil drawing than a photograph.  Olympus OM-4; Fuji Velvia 50 colour slide; Silver Efex Pro.
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BRISTOL 151 – TABLE AND YELLOW CHAIR

 

 


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A couple of years back, I was doing a lot of early morning visits to Bristol city centre, and glorying in the abilities, light weight and compactness of my second mirrorless camera, the Fujifilm X-T2 (my first being the X-T1).  Having tramped the early streets for several hours, I would at last fetch at some or other eatery, and flop down to a second breakfast – which was usually a Full English.

One of the eateries I frequented was Browns: the food is excellent and, while not inexpensive, the Full English with a pot of tea (together with a tea strainer!) has a definite sense of occasion and ceremony about it – which I’ve tried to convey in A Distinctly Civilised Full English, here .  Even though I say so myself, if you’re anything like interested in food, this post might be worth a look.

And while waiting for the food to arrive, I took many pictures of the restaurant’s tables and beautiful yellow chairs, which were side lit by large windows looking out onto the street.  Some of these images have already been posted – search for Browns in the tags shown along the bottom of this post – but here is another that I came across recently.  Mostly low key, its about the way the light coming in from the street illuminates the various objects in the frame, notably the yellow chair.  I hope you like it.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it further – recommended.

Technique: X-T2 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 212mm (equiv); 1600 ISO; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Provia/Standard profile; Browns restaurant, Bristol; 24 Feb 2017.
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BRISTOL 146 – OUTSIDE THE CROWN

 

 


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Passing time in central Bristol: tables for patrons only, outside The Crown.
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There are other pictures in this short series here: 1 2 3 4 .

Click onto each image to open another version in a separate window and click onto that image to further enlarge it.

Technique: TG-5 at 49mm (equiv); 1000 ISO; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Vivid profile; outside The Crown pub, in All Saints Lane, central Bristol; 25 June 2019.

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ARCHIVE 411 – VIEW INTO A RESTAURANT

 

 


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Looking in through a restaurant window, Bristol Harbourside; 14 July 2016.

Looking in through this window, I was at once taken with the single, beautiful flower, caught by the light.  But, there being all sorts of visual rubbish off to the left, I could not make the flower anywhere near central in the composition, nor get it near to any of the compositional thirds.  I could of course have tried portrait (ie vertical) format, but this seemed a waste of all that diffuse, half-seen, “restauranty” detail off to the right – table cloths, more glasses, cutlery, upholstery.

And so to this.  Westerners’ eyes often enter images from the left, perhaps because we write from left to right – I’ve often talked about this on this blog in the past.  So,  in this case, my eyes enter this image from the left and run visually slap bang into the flower and its attendant glassware, sharp and well lit in the summer sunlight – and are for a moment held there.

But as I look at the bloom and its reflective attendants, my eyes keep wandering off to the right, wondering what’s there – only to be dragged back to the flower again.

Do your eyes do the same, or do you see this differently?  Is the flower really too far left?  What do you think?

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it.

Technique: X-T1 with 55-200 Fujinon lens at 305mm (equiv); 3200 ISO.

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BRISTOL 135 – TABLE OUTSIDE A CAFE (MONO + COLOUR)

 

 


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Table and chair, the offer of fashionable alfresco dining on a city street but – at a rather cool and early hour – with no takers. 

The flowers added a wonderful splash of colour, and selective restoration of that colour in black and white immediately came to mind.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it further.

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 70mm; 1600 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Vivid V2 picture control; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Soft Sepia preset, and then selectively restoring colour and adding a slight pale vignette; Corn Street, central Bristol; 10 May 2019.
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PEOPLE 369 – DRINKING LAGER (MONO)

 

 


Having lunch with an old and very valued friend; feeling good and drinking lager, as it happens.  And I asked her to take some shots of me with the TG-5.  Not at all an ideal camera for this, far too much of the background in focus and light conditions tricky but, anyway, here I am, sucking down the old Electric Sauce and feeling the benefits thereof.

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Critique: the TG-5 not doing too badly at 3200 ISO.  However, as my old friend was driven to admit, the whole experience left her shaken … but not stirred …   And also, you know, I’m just not sure she’s caught my best side …
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Technique: take one old and very valued friend, several glasses of lager and one TG-5 at 40mm (equiv), and shake well to mix in all the goodness and downright friendliness; 3200 ISO; Lightroom, using the Camera Vivid film simulation; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Neutral preset and adding a light Coffee tone; lunching, drinking and laughing in a pub in south Bristol; 14 Mar 2019.
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OUTER SUBURBS 91 – LUNCH IN A PUB

 

 


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Those of you outside the UK will probably have heard of British pubs or public houses – the “local”, the boozer, purveyors of The Electric Soup.  At 69, I can still remember, long ago, glimpses through open doors of rough, raw, smoke filled “spit and sawdust” establishments where men got drunk, and women were either absent or few; as I can recall pubs not being allowed to open on Sundays; and also pubs opening on Sundays where often the only things to eat were packets of crisps – not so good for those looking for warmth after a freezing winter’s early morning birding!  But now, pubs are for all, children included, and in many cases, especially away from city centres, they only survive in a very tough marketplace via their food rather than their booze.

And so to a quiet lunch in a pub way out in the south Bristol suburbs, on the edge of the city, on a weekday – this place is far busier on the weekend, and maybe on Fridays too.  Range of clientele?  Well there a baby’s buggy on the left –  children are allowed in until 9pm – and there’s an old woman with a walking stick at top left.  And so to modern life: sauce bottles on the tables (excellent!), a large TV up on the wall (groan!), and a flight of white-edged steps for falling down on your way back, laden with drinks, from the bar, which is out of shot at top right.  All in all, reasonably comfortable and congenial, and certainly affordable.

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This is the pub’s Mega Mixed Grill!!!  The friendly manageress has been known to exclaim “You’ve eaten it all!” but, well, you know, its a FATman Thing.  Nice touches to this meal, things that catch my eye??? Well, some blackening on the tomato, the ritual steak knife, and the jug of pepper sauce – a delicious meal except for the steak, which is often a problem in this particular pub. 😦

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And all washed down with pints of Stella, an above average, Belgian, mass market lager, tasty and fairly strong, a pleasure to drink – though simply not up there with brews from the likes of Duvel or Westmalle!  The above is a balanced diet – a pint for each hand …

The first image in the Outer Suburbs series, with context, is here: 1 .  Subsequent images are here: 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 53a 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 .  Each will open in a separate window.

Click on each image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it.

Technique: TG-5 at 25mm (equiv); 1600 ISO; Lightroom; south Bristol; 11 Feb 2019.
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