The day after yesterday

Yesterday was the opening game of the 2015 Six Nations rugby tournament, with England beating Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. I watched the game on TV from my personal box, with a strong cup of tea by my side. I live life on the edge.

This morning, I took the early train to Cardiff as I wanted to visit the museum to see an exhibition on early photography. More of that later. The train was empty, despite being an Intercity service going to London. When I got to Cardiff, I found that it, too was quiet. The only people around seemed to be the people heading off to open up and run shops. It was clear that everyone else was indoors, recovering from the night before.

It was cold and grey in the capital, and after a reviving cup of coffee, I set off for Jessops, the photographic retailer. After they went bust a few years ago, the brand was sold and a few of the shops were reopened. Cardiff has such a store. I ended up having a chat with one of the salesmen there as it turned out he went to college in Swansea, where I was a technician in the photography department. We shared some stories and caught up with the whereabouts of some of the tutors. It was a breath of fresh air, and there was no sense of sales pitching at all. I always liked the staff in Jessops, and I’m glad the brand has been resurrected.

Then it was on to the museum and straight to the exhibition. A large proportion of the displayed photographs were from or by John Dillwyn Llewelyn and his sister, Mary. JDL was an early pioneer of photography in Britain and was a contemporary of Fox Talbot, to whom he was related by marriage. His earliest images date back to 1840. His mansion at Penllegare was the centre of his photographic endeavours, and the house and grounds feature often as subjects. If you go along to Penllegare Woods to day (and you should, it’s a great place to visit), you can see many of the places and subjects JDL photographed. The mansion, sadly, is gone and the beautiful ornamental gardens are over grown but volunteers are working to restore parts of the grounds to their former state.

Some of the images on display were from the 1850s and it was amazing to see people staring out from 164 years ago. There were familiar sights – Caswell and Three Cliffs Bay, Tenby, Swansea docks and, as mentioned, Penllegare woods.

In the early days of photography the film wasn’t sensitive enough to freeze any kind of motion, so there are photographs of sailing ships in Swansea docks where their movement on the water has blurred the masts and completely hidden the rigging. It meant that people sitting for portraits had to stay motionless for up to several minutes. Neck braces were used to help keep people still. Some of the pioneering work JDL was doing was developing more sensitive films, cutting the exposure time to seconds and making possible more natural looking poses

Other photographers were represented too, some amateur, some professional. The images ranged from studio portraits to reportage and historical records. Some of the equipment and cameras used by JDL and his contemporaries were on display too. The early cameras were crude wooden boxes that weren’t immediately identifiable as photographic tools.

I enjoyed the exhibition and the fascinating insight to the early days of photography it gave. I wish there had been more photographs on display, though.

Day Off 1

A day off with no fixed plans is scary and great at the same time. Scary because I might waste it by doing lots of little things and getting no where or achieving nothing. Great because anything is possible.

After weeks of being unable to get out, I wanted to do things today. I got up at 7am (it’s a lie-in for me) and by 7.45 I had decided to go to Cardiff by train. I was leaving the station at 8.28. Not long afterwards, I became aware of the conversation of two young ladies sitting behind me. It was about boyfriends, and who was seeing who, and how Jane, who is pregnant (‘I didn’t know that’) had downed a whole bottle of Jack Daniels (other whiskeys are available), and how David was now dealing, according to Steve. All of this was interspersed with some lovely swear words. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the swearing was occasionally interrupted by conversation.

Then, two different passengers had a long conversation about umbrellas (ella ella eh eh eh) – how the one she had made her hair swirl around in the wind like a snowglobe and the one her friend had fitted into her handbag but was a bit heavy and that Diane always had really nice umbrellas (ella ella eh eh eh). After that, the hours I spent in Cardiff were a bit of a let down.

I had always planned to take Rufus out in the afternoon. I was home in plenty of time to collect him and head off to the river. We like the river. Even the weather looked as if it had cleared up, with sunny spells and blue sky. We left the car and made our way down to the river. I should have realised the dark clouds to my right were destined to find us but the wind was blowing from ahead and I thought that was where the weather would come from. We managed to get about 20 minutes from the car before the first few hail stones floated down. I managed to get my waterproof trousers on but by the time they were zipped up, it was raining and hailing hard.

Rufus doesn’t mind the rain but he’s not partial to hail so we both looked for some shelter. Rufus found a boulder and stood behind it. I joined him but it wasn’t really big enough for me. Rufus cuddled in during the worst of the hail, which started to drive at an angle because of the wind. When the worst of it was over, we  had a quick discussion and both agreed that heading back to the car would be the wisest action.

Of course, as we got back to the car, the downpour stopped and the sun came out. So with just a look, we both agreed a little more exercise was in order. We headed off up the other side of the valley to a standing stone that can be seen from the road. It was a short up hill pull, ideal for both of us as we were out of practice a bit, and at the stone, the sun was warm and beginning to dry us out. But in the distance, another dark cloud bank was heading our way, so we quickly headed back to the car.

Alas, we weren’t quick enough and with the car in sight, the heavens opened with heavier hail and rain than before. We could have done with an umbrella (ella ella eh eh eh) – any design, any shape, heavy or light. Rufus was glad to get in the car (he usually makes excuses not to have to leave) and I joined him. Pools of water started to form in the footwell as I struggled to get the soaking wet weather gear off. By the time we were ready to leave, hailstones covered the road like a thin coating of snow. The noise of them hitting the car drowned out the radio. I decided to wait for a while before setting off.

And as usual, by the time I dropped Rufus off, it was a glorious summer’s day again!

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