A walk in the wild wood

I let Rufus off the lead and stopped to listen. At first, other than his gentle snuffling as he explored the scents I could hear nothing. But as my senses adjusted to my surroundings I started to hear the subtle sounds of the woods. Off to my left there was a rustling as blackbirds foraged through the leaves. Above them, in the skeleton branches their smaller cousins called warnings as we made our way further into the trees. In the distance, a dog barked on a farm.

To my right a stream trickled and whispered over stones and fallen branches. In folklore, streams and waterfalls are supposed to be magical places where the fairies gather, and if you listen hard enough you can hear them calling softly. Listen the next time you’re near a small waterfall, and as long as there is no one else around, you’ll hear them too.

Although there was no wind, there was a lot of movement. Blackbirds taking off stirred the leaves around them into little splashes of yellow, while other leaves dropped to carpet the path in a bright orange or brown layer. Every now and then Rufus would pop out from behind a tree or bush before disappearing again as he found some new smell to investigate. We turned off the main path to walk alongside the stream. Above, the canopy of leaves got thicker as if autumn hadn’t quite made it here yet. Rustling in the branches led to showers of leaves either side of us as we moved; the squirrels were keeping pace with us but remaining out of sight.

Every now and then as we walked, a bright patch of yellow leaves still attached to their trees seemed to glow against the sky, defying the brown decay around them. Green moss coated the tree trunks and ivy climbed up and around where the moss allowed it. The sound of an aeroplane flying high above on its way to Heathrow battered its way into our little world which, until now, had been free of man-made intrusions other than us.

Beneath our feet, the mud thickened and spread out to block out path. So reluctantly, we turned about and made our way back through the trees and out onto a misty Fairwood Common.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

TW3

Age brings aches and pains. I know and accept this. So the sharp pain I started to feel in my heel wasn’t too much of a surprise, and for a couple of weeks I put it down to age, wear and tear and years of hills, mountains and pavements. And then I saw a post on Facebook that made me think again.

I’m not a fan of Dr Internet. Dr Internet never spent time in University learning about medicine (or anything, for that matter) and never passed any exams. So anything I read on Dr Internet I take with a pinch of salt. A large one. I mean, Dr Internet also saturates the ether with cute kittens dressed as puppies or cute puppies dressed as kittens. Imagine if you turned up at your local doctor’s surgery with a festering, rainbow coloured rash only to have your doctor show you videos of a baby hamster fast asleep in the jaws of a tiger cub dressed as a puppy.It’s not the best way to generate confidence.

But this post was from someone I knew. And I mean really knew, not just ‘liked’ a couple of times on social media. I have conversations with her in work, and I’m fairly certain she’s not a figment of my imagination as I’ve seen others talk to her as well. Anyway, the post showed how to apply sports tape to a foot suffering from Plantar Fasciitis. The plantar fascia is the bit of me that forms the sole of my foot and it can be damaged by exercise. I checked on the NHS website and found the symptoms attributed to this condition fitted with what I was experiencing. Suddenly I had a condition (and thank goodness it wasn’t one that was named after me, as those kinds of conditions are inevitably bad). More importantly, I could legitimately apply sports tape to the injury and thereby become a true athlete.

I bought some sports tape and displayed the photo that showed me how to apply it. There was an immediate problem. The foot displayed was the left foot and my sports injury was on my right foot. And I was looking at the foot in the picture from the point of view of someone applying the tape, not the individual whose foot was affected. So there was some mental juggling required to identify which toes the second strip started from and which way around the heel it went. If you’ve ever used sports tape (I have, as I suffer from a proper, real, legitimate sports injury you know), then you’ll know that unlike, say, regular duct tape, it’s very elastic. So after having measured out what I thought I needed for the first strip, I found myself with handfuls of very thin and sticky black tape sticking to everything, including itself.

I had four strips to apply and by the time I was on the second, I was surrounded by backing paper, off cuts of tape, and strips cut to length. My right leg was bent back with my foot twisted to give me the best access to the sole and I think I may have been doing more damage to my knee (its the one I wrote about here) than I was curing my foot. After some struggling, a few words which shocked even Rufus and about 15m of tape, I had a taped up foot.

And I have to admit, it started to feel better quite quickly. It may have been the placebo effect, or it may have been the numbing effect of all that twisting and bending of my knee. But the purpose of the tape was to help support the plantar fascia, relieving some of the pressure and helping it heal. (Ha ha – helping my heel heal ahem), and it seemed to be working as I found walking was less painful. I kept it on for two days (it survived a coupe of showers, being real sports tape for sportsmen with sporting injuries) and while it was never meant to be a cure, it helped lessen the impact of everyday walking.

When I finally took it off, I followed the instructions that came with the tape. Yes, instructions on how to use tape. It said ‘roll off in the direction of the body hair for a less painful experience’. Fortunately, I don’t have hairy feet so I decided to whip the tape off it off in one go after cutting through part of it. It didn’t hurt, but as it was on the sole of my foot, it tickled something chronic.

Last night I attempted to apply more tape, using the lessons I’d learned from the first application. I cut the tape to more accurate sizes and tried to settle into a more comfortable position to apply it. 10 minutes and some more swearing later (Rufus was out of the room), I had one strip of tape that had completely stuck to itself, one bit (the easy bit) on my foot and I was resorting once again to contorting my body to try and reach the appropriate part of my foot with the rest of the tape whilst trying to prevent it from curling up or folding in on itself.

I sort of won in the end.

I took Rufus onto the hills this morning as I think that part of the problem with my foot is that we’ve been doing a lot of walking on pavements recent, and the impact doesn’t help with joints. It felt good to be squelching through the marshy ground this morning as the soft going made our walk pain free. And after nearly three miles on Moel Feity, I removed the tape again and resorted to best cure for sore muscles I know. Soaking in hot water.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Extremes

“Me! Me! Take a photo of me!”

As a photographer, I often hear the opposite. “Don’t point that camera at me” (usually followed by a giggle and a pose). One exception is Rufus, who realises that the time I spend taking photos is time that is not spent throwing stones or sticks or reaching for the treat bag. But yesterday, as I was taking photos of the flowers in the garden, one bee decided it wanted to be part of the image. If you look in the top left corner of the image of the purple flowers, you’ll see it diving into shot. Later, it demanded modelling fees.

I was taking some more macro photos of the tiny world in my garden. Half the challenge is finding a suitable subject and another significant problem is wind. Stop sniggering at the back there, I mean natural wind that blows flowers and leaves around. It can prevent insects flying, disturb them and make focusing well nigh impossible. Focusing is critical with close ups, as the amount of the picture that is in focus is tiny and the slightest movement can create blur.

I was using extension tubes, which move the lens away from the body of the camera. The ultimate effect of this is to reduce the closest distance that the lens will focus on, making the thing you are photographing very large in the final image. At one point the front of the lens was less than an inch from the leaf I was trying to photograph. Although I was using a ring flash at this point, which gives an even light across the subject, my shadow and that of the camera was falling across the leaf and had already disturbed a small fly I had originally spotted on it.

Fast forward about 9 hours and the same camera, with a different lens, was pointed skywards in the hope of catching a Perseid meteor. These are the tiny fragmented remains of comet Swift-Tuttle, the tail of which we pass through this time every year. For a brief moment they flare as bright as the moon before burning up and finally settling on the earth as a fine dust. I’ve seen figures that suggest around 60 tons of meteorite material falls on the earth every day. Don’t quote me on that, though, as it’s from the Internet.

So from trying to focus on a leaf around 2cm from the lens, to trying to capture the flare of a meteor at an altitude of around 80km, it’s been a day of extremes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

#2minutebeachclean

Check out #2minutebeachclean and #2MINUTELITTERPICK on Twitter. The premise is quite simple. Whenever you are out, take two minutes to pick up some litter. The aim is not to scour the area clean (although that would be good) but to pick up a few bits of litter to make a small difference. And let people know about it so that they can consider doing it too.

I first heard of the concept on the BBC Springwatch programme and it seemed quite straight forward. I started taking a small bin liner with me on my walks in Gower with Rufus. I’d wait until we were on our way back and pick up litter. I concentrate on recyclables as these tend to be the things that will last the longest in the landscape. I also make a point of picking up anything that might cause injury, such as broken glass, sharp edged metal and anything that wildlife could get tangled in.

Be sensible. I tend to leave anything that could be contaminated, such as tissues or any container with liquid in it. If I was doing a proper litter pick with all the right kit it would be different, but this is just helping out. Only pick up what you’re comfortable doing. Every little bit you remove makes a difference. We only have one planet, lets help keep it tidy.

Today, Rufus and I went down to Whiteford for a paddle. I made a point of taking a larger bin bag with me as I wanted to pick up a load of litter on the way back. A 30minutebeachclean. On the walk to the beach we were watched carefully by a small robin who was happy for both of us to walk close by and even posed for the camera. On the beach, I let Rufus off the lead and he went off in search of aromatic things to roll in while I snapped away at the Oystercatchers on the water’s edge.

As we walked along, the tide was coming in and the Oystercatchers were getting closer. Rufus is inquisitive and I knew he’s be off to see what they were up to. I pointed the camera at the birds and waited. Sure enough, as soon as he got close, they rose as one and I got some fine photos of Oystercatchers on the wing. We left them alone and headed inland to a point where the tide was closest to the dunes. Here I threw stones and sticks for Rufus to chase into the sea, not that he needed an excuse to paddle. I love watching him bounce around and splash in the water and although he’s not as quick as he used to be, he makes up for it by enthusiastically barking to encourage me to throw more sticks.

It was time to turn around and now was when I got my bin bag out and started to pick up other people’s litter. Very quickly, it was clear that I couldn’t manage to collect everything so I decided to prioritise plastic and my personal objects of hatred – plastic fishing line and net. Soon I had a bag full, including two beer bottles and a broken plastic spade. Unfortunately, the sharp edged plastic tore the bag and before I knew it, the bin bag had shredded. I had a dilemma. I was about 30 minutes from the car and there was no way I could carry all the rubbish back with me.

I don’t claim to be practically clever but I today had a moment of insight. Most of the rubbish was plastic fishing line and with a little re-arranging and with the aid of two of Rufus’ poo bags, I managed to truss up most of the rubbish into a package I could carry. Unfortunately, I had to leave the two beer bottles but they weren’t broken so it wasn’t a disaster. For the next half hour, I carefully carried the bundle of rubbish through the dunes and along the tree lined pathway to the car park, where there was a convenient bin to deposit it all in.

Neither of us were ready to go home so we took a little detour to Broadpool on the way back. I think the heron has taken a dislike to my blue car. When I used to park the red one next to the pool, it would hang about but as soon as it sees the blue one it’s off. We don’t chase the heron as it’s nervous enough. Instead, I watched swallows diving for insects, the Canada Geese taking a nap and the turtles still basking in the sun. I tried to get photos of the dragonflies but they were too quick for the camera to focus on.

Back home, a shower was on the cards for the one of us that was covered in salt and sand.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Mynydd Garn Fach

Sheep everywhere. Sleeping sheep, eating sheep, staring sheep (they’re the worst because they stare as if they know something we don’t). Some run away, some stand where they are and pee. Others (usually the same ones that stare) will approach us.

We left the car at the entrance to the Brynllefrith plantation (now more like the Brynllefrith tree since they chopped most of the forest down) and started off across Mynydd y Gwair. Despite recent rain, the mainly hot and dry weather had turned the normally marshy and unpleasant moorland into a more enjoyable terrain. It was easy to avoid they persistently lingering patches of mud.

The moor looked like a sheep plantation. Everywhere there were little blobs of white with hints of red, blue and green where paint had been applied to signify ownership. Some of them bleated but most of them had their heads down and were chomping away on the grass, oblivious to our passing. Rufus has long since lost interest in sheep and I wasn’t worried that he’d go off chasing them. My only concern was that we’d walk into a distracted sheep, which would panic, so as we got close to the preoccupied ones, I clapped my hands to announce our presence.

Rufus took this to be a sign that he was due a biscuit and would stare longingly at me. Of course Rufus takes everything to be a sign that he is due a biscuit. A cough, me taking a photo, a leaf falling in the woods several miles away. All of these definitively indicate that a snack is imminent.

The last few times we’ve been here I’ve been heading for the river to get some waterfall photos but today I wanted to see how far we could go beyond the river, up onto Mynydd Garn Fach. The last time we were here it was just after my mate had died and I found a spoon on the walk. I ought to explain why that was significant.

When I was in school with Simon, we created ‘spoonhenge’, a circle of dessert spoons. It took a few weeks of sneaking spoons out of the school canteen and was carefully hidden in the long grass that we knew wasn’t likely to be cut.

Fast forward to earlier this year, just after Simon’s funeral. I was out on Mynydd y Gwair with Rufus and we were off any normal paths. Imagine my surprise to find a dessert spoon exactly where you wouldn’t expect to find one. I took it as a sign. I’m not superstitious as a rule, but this was too much of a co-incidence. I picked it up and used it as foreground interest for some of my photos. In the end, we got to the Bronze Age cairn on the top of Mynydd Garn Fach and I thought it would be fitting to place the spoon in the cairn. Which I did.

Today, I decided that if Rufus was feeling up to it, we’d head up to the cairn. I needn’t have worried about my canine companion, as he was jogging all over the place and was showing no signs of tiredness. So we set off around the coal workings and up to the summit of the hill. The cairn was surrounded by sheep, of course. Some sleeping, some eating and some staring. But they cleared off for us and we spent a few minutes at the cairn, where I found the spoon I’d placed under the stones was still there.

Although losing Simon was sad I have plenty of found memories, most of which bring a smile to my face. I remember when we were starting the first band off, spending evenings in our local pub making plans for world domination. But the smile comes from recalling one evening when we’d had a disagreement in the pub. It wasn’t enough for one of us to storm out but we couldn’t let the argument go. It continued as we walked back to his house from the pub and sort of came to a conclusion outside in the street. Loudly. I don’t remember what we were arguing about but I think both of us would have agreed that if we felt strongly enough about something, it was right to argue.

After I’d replaced the spoon, Rufus and I turned around to make our way through the indifferent sheep back down the hill to the river, where stones were thrown and paddling was had and there was some very strange barking (I reminded Rufus that he was a spaniel not a terrier as some of the barking was distinctly ‘yappy’). Then we set off for the remains of the forest and the car.

On the way I started to collect some rubbish as part of the #2minutelitterpick and #2minutebeachclean I’ve been taking part in. Basically, you spend 2 minutes picking litter up when you’re out. It’s simple, straight forward and makes a difference. Today I managed to collect a lot of tin cans and plastic drinks bottles. They’re all recyclable and it’s such a shame that people can’t be bothered to take their rubbish home with them.

The irony was that we passed the remains of a car that had been dumped in the marshy ground near the forest. It’s been there for more than a year now and it is slowly disintegrating, with bits all over the place. It makes for an interesting photographic subject, but I’d rather it not be there.

Back at the car, Rufus wasn’t ready to go home. I was pleased to see he was still keen on walking around as because of his habit of slowing down when we near the house or car it can be difficult to tell when he’s genuinely tired and when it’s just an act because he doesn’t want to go home.

It turned out we’d walked 3.6 miles in just over two hours.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Turning Turtle

Now that I am semi/partially/part time retired, I have more time to do stuff. It’s the dream. Despite problems with pay and pension and the farce of spending a month without an official working pattern, I am 6 weeks into my new life and still loving it. The ‘stuff’ I’m currently doing is a mix of things around the house that I finally have time to put the effort into, and making a concerted effort to do more photography.

The former is actually quite enjoyable. I’m not a keen DIYer. I tend to be able to do a mediocre job but I quickly lose interest and I absolutely hate preparation and clearing up afterwards. But recently, I’ve seen the light and have done a number of (admittedly small) jobs around the house. Having two extra days means I don’t try to cram everything into an evening or weekend and I can take my time.

Having more time to spend taking photographs means I can try new things and experiment with different approaches to the same old things. Last weekend, on the recommendation of a friend, I spent two afternoons at a local dance festival. It was a great photo opportunity but also a fantastic experience that I wouldn’t have thought about attending if I had been trying to fit all my ‘stuff’ into the weekend. Rufus gets better walks because he doesn’t have to wait for me to set up a tripod and seek the decisive moment.

Yesterday, I left work early and set off for Llanmadoc church to take some snaps. On the way, I stopped off at Broadpool to have a snack and a drink and I pointed my camera at what I thought were a couple of ducks on the far bank. Imagine my surprise to see that rather than ducks, I was looking at a family of five turtles enjoying the sun. I spoke to someone in the RSPCA as I thought they had been abandoned but the woman I spoke to said that turtles are now native to the UK and it’s most likely that they are living there. The test was whether they were in distress (which they definitely weren’t) and that they were mature and seemingly in a family group. I’ve seen a lot of wildlife at Broadpool, including the human kind that fish. But this was the best sighting I’ve had for a long time.

I’ve had more time to go through the photos I already have on the computer and to make the effort to study some of them in more detail to figure out how I can improve. And I’ve taken the big step (for me) of entering some photos in the Landscape Photographer of the Year competition, which saw me whittling over 100 photos from the last three years down to the 7 that I would finally enter.

So, not only time to do stuff but also time to change and improve the stuff I already do.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Life changes

If you think back over the last thirty years, you’d have to agree things have changed. In 1986, plans were announced to build the Channel Tunnel, which wouldn’t be completed for another 8 years. There was still a big concrete wall and minefield separating East and West Germany. People were being killed trying to cross from East to West. The Simpsons were created in 1986. Commercially available digital cameras were unknown. Although the initial theoretical work that led to the MP3 audio format was done in the 1890s, a standard wasn’t agreed on until 100 years later.

30 years ago this year, I started my adventures in the world of work. I had left college wanting to be a musician but knowing that I’d need proper work to see me through and pay the bills (at least until we hit the big time). So off I went into the job market to see what was about. I was fortunate, I walked into my first job mainly because (on paper) I was more highly qualified for the role than the hiring manager. I became the technician in the photography department of the local college and held the job for 7 months until they gained their BTEC accreditation (for which they needed a dedicated technician) and no longer needed me.

I spent some time between careers, doing voluntary work and attending a number of job interviews. I learnt a lot about the interview process and, most importantly, that not all the interviewers were capable of carrying out a proper selection. I also learnt not to point that out to them! One occasion ended up with a discussion on the reliability of various cars as the hiring manager had run out of things to ask. I was in no position to refuse any job offer but ironically, the next job I had came about when I gave the band’s bass player a lift to a job interview. As I was there, they interviewed me too. The word interview makes it sound structured – it wasn’t and the reason I got the job and the bassist didn’t was simply because I could drive and he couldn’t, and they needed someone there and then. I spent two years driving security vans for a well known company (not the ones that got the Olympics wrong), rising to the position of crew commander. Unfortunately, that was where it would end as the next level of promotion was into the admin office, and those jobs were reserved for the boss’s favourites (of which I was not one).

Next came the move into what I thought might be a career and once again, I got the job because I accompanied someone. We went to get the application forms for her, and I picked up a set at the same time. I got an interview at which was able to tell the interviewers things about the organisation that they didn’t know. By now I’d learnt to do that tactfully and in a way that was informative rather than challenging. As a result, I not only got a job offer, but a choice of jobs in the same place. I think I chose wisely.

27 years and ten different roles later, there has been no sign of a career but it’s mostly been a good experience. But now I am about to take another big step in the adventure of work. Tomorrow is my first official day of partial retirement. It was a relatively easy decision to make but as the actual date has been getting closer, it’s been hard to really prepare for it as so much remains unknown at the moment. It’s a big step and some of the decisions I’ve had to make will continue to impact me for many years. But none were taken lightly and I have no regrets. My only real concern is that I make the most of the new time I have as a result of reducing my hours.

In the last couple of years I have seen friends and peers suffer life changing illnesses and in some cases, die. I read somewhere that in a study done in America, a number of people interviewed at the end of their lives only ever expressed regret at things they didn’t do. They never regretted mistakes made as a result of trying new things. That’s how I want to be looking back over my life when that time comes.