#ShortWrytz : The Time-Capsule

(Above: The Saltpetre – a 19th century gunpowder store at the end of our garden!)

I’ve written about it, before. The Saltpetre is a gunpowder store that was used to house the produce of the local gunpowder factory by the river Kent. The ‘black powder’ as it used to be called, was brought up through the village, slowly, by horse and cart – the cart having dressed wheels to help prevent sparks. There were many deaths in the village from explosions, so everyone was deeply conscious of the danger.

Old (black) gunpowder was mixed in the following proportions (by weight): 75% potassium nitrate (saltpetre), 15% softwood charcoal, and 10% sulphur. Our quirky outbuilding was named after the component with the greater part by volume – 75%. We suspect that gunpowder was also generally known as ‘saltpeter’ in those days when the bargemen would collect it from the canal wharf that is now our garden and take it south.

The photo was taken from the lower part of the garden. It’s lower because it was the canal bed. The Saltpetre was constructed in about 1820, the year the local Quaker banker and gunpowder entrepreneur, the first John Wakefield, persuaded the canal trust to change their route and run as close to his works as possible.

The simple stone structure has been there ever since, enjoying many incarnations, but none as exciting as its original use. For the past decade, we have been filling it up with our ‘stuff’. It’s bigger than it looks and has taken a lot of filling! But, with the Covid-19 lockdown in place, it made sense to spend some of the time doing the long-promised clean out.

Right at the back were three shoe boxes, each one carefully taped closed so that not even dust could get in. I had packed them – several house-moves ago, but any knowledge of their contents had long vaporised.

Grubby from the day’s dusty excavations and disposal into a mountain of ‘black bags’, I reached for a my knife and sliced open the tape, feeling intrigued as to what was in there.

Much of it was instantly binable. But an inner ‘jiffy pack’ contained two items: a vintage pocket watch, bought on a business trip to The Hague, and a passport sized photo of me taken approximately 25 years ago. I had thought the watch was long lost, and was delighted to be reunited with an object I loved. It cost me the equivalent of £150 back then. Not a huge investment, but I found its slim and elegant lines very pleasing, and simply wanted to keep it.

The second item was more shocking. There’s nothing quite so sobering as seeing yourself as you were a quarter of a century ago… Ageing is inevitable, but such a brutal confrontation across the years requires a deep breath.

The day was ending in a lovely and still-warm sunset when, freshly showered, I brought the two objects to our patio table, where Bernie had made us each a long gin and tonic.

We sat in silence, gazing at the evening gold reflected in drink and watch, and laughing at the young man. Talk about a time capsule!

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz : Dreams of Trees

The river is just below. Close and beautiful, as always, but he’s photographed it a hundred times and the winter’s challenge is to find a new place; a place hidden in the old, hidden in the usual.

And then, as he turns to seek elsewhere, it’s there. Devoid of leaves, its tall structure is all there is, but its presence is magnificent and dark with enduring purpose against the cold March sky.

#ShortWrytz : Hope in the Sky

The early March night sky

I have always looked for the key ‘moments’ as the turn of the year progresses. My favourite is the first day when you feel like ‘spring is in the air’. But, prior to that, there are certain nights in March when you feel that there is ‘hope’ in the sky – and sometimes that comes in the darkness rather than in the day.

Here in Cumbria, we have long, wet winters. A few days ago, we returned in the early evening from walking Tess, our collie, on one of Morecambe’s beaches (such a good alternative to the endless mud that fills the paths around where we live) to find an intense sense of brightness in the twilight sky. I looked up to see a wispy cloud formation that ended in a bright moon and, nearby, Venus.

I spent the next few minutes with the camera jammed firmly on the car’s roof while I reeled off a variety of shots with different compositions.

The above photo is my favourite. It gives me that ‘hang on’ feeling – that the sky is talking to you, that the long wet and dark winter is slowly giving way to what will be a very welcome spring…

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz : Leaves of Winter

There’s a new park in Kendal. It nestles beneath the Fellside district. It’s an old part of the town that climbs to become one of the first fells on the way to Lake Windermere. The meeting of Lakeland fell and level park is dramatic and beautiful.

The centre of the park is circular, and filled with ornamental grasses, surrounded by shrubs.

Cold and frost are not always easy to photograph. But when there is a bright, morning sun climbing over the horizon something magical can happen…

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#NightMoves : Sodium Stroll, Wimereux

Like most bloggers, I enjoy writing. I also enjoy taking photographs – as many as my long-suffering wife, Bernie, can tolerate, on our travels.

One of my favourite styles of photography is black and white – particularly the high-contrast ‘Noir’ mode offered by modern cameras. I recently suppressed the urge to upgrade my ageing Apple laptop in favour of spending the money on a new iPhone II pro, the one with the three lenses, aimed at the more serious snapper… It is always with me, as it masquerades as a phone, too…

(Above: quiet street, elegant houses, Wimereux)

For the second year in a row, we travelled to northern France in January. It’s a touch masochistic, as the weather around the Pas de Calais region is nothing short of freezing at that time of year. But we enjoy catching up with our French relatives and the coldness of the climate is matched by the familial warmth and hospitality.

The French family is split between Calais and Lille. We enjoy both, but, last year, on an escorted trip up the coast, we discovered the Belle Époque seaside town of Wimereux, only thirty minutes from Calais. With no time to stop – our beloved French matriarch was cooking the family’s Sunday lunch! – we looked longingly at the beautiful streets and houses as we were driven past..

(Above: the confident and playful sprit of the Belle Epoque is evident in its art… Source Wikkipedia, Public Domain)

So, this time, between the visit to Lille, on the Belgian border, and the return to Calais, we booked a two night stay in what turned out to be a lovely B&B in the heart of Wimereux, within walking distance of the promenade and the shops. Visits to relatives can be intense, so the chance to unwind and just stroll was very welcome… We resolved that the car would stay where it was – parked right outside the B&B – and we would spend the two days walking… and, in my case, taking photographs to celebrate such a beautiful place.

(Above: quieter than the street, the ticking of a cooling engine. Its daily duties over…)

The town was established during France’s ‘second empire’; a term that refers to the period of Napoleon III (1808-1873), who, seeking to emulate his illustrious forebears, changed France radically, centring the country on Paris and creating a sophisticated national rail network.

(Above: once part of the SNCF station buildings, this beautiful example is now apartments)

The train brought well-heeled visitors to Wimereux, resulting in a vibrant seaside town full of houses and other buildings in the sophisticated ‘end of century’ style. The town is proud of its heritage and looks after its historic buildings. Wimereux was originally a place of secondary residence for wealthy families from Lille and Paris, but has now become a residential suburb of Boulogne-Sur-Mer. It is visibly international, and attracts Britons and Belgians, many of whom have settled permanently.

(Above: a matrix of well-defined lines; for the photographer, a lattice of contrasts)

The secondary title of this blog: Sodium Stroll, refers to the fact that all these photos were taking late at night under winter street lighting, which we used to call ‘sodium lamps’ – a reference to the metal used to give the yellow-muted light they provide. For my purposes, this light is ideal for capturing ‘mood’.

Mood is what I’m after, here…

Walking in the monochrome dark like this invites whimsy and reflection. The captions to the photos reflect that.

(Above: emerging from a side street onto the promenade, we find other late-night strollers walking, talking quietly, and reflecting)

It’s bitter on the promenade, but most people we encounter take the time to stop and share the moment… We are all drawn by a certain something in this darkness.

(Above: you can’t help wondering who lives beyond this fine doorway… and what stories those old doors hold from the past)

The cold is becoming bitter. We decide to return to our B&B in a final circuit of streets.

(Above: the last shot from the promenade, and my favourite of the whole set)

Along the way, I notice the ‘sodium light’ is throwing an effective and humorous shadow along the white walls. It’s an ideal end to the whimsy. One of my Facebook friends has dubbed this my ‘Harry Lime’ shot…. A reference to the 1949 ‘Noir’ film, The Third Man.

It was a very cold night… and, yes, that is my hat, made in Paris and bought in Lille.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz – Intricate Outlines

Words for photographs I’ve taken…

Winter offers the photographer a challenge – to be creative with what little colour there is…

One way around this is to look for the most contrast to be found. In this shot, taken on a walk in the mid-afternoon, the pale sun was already falling towards the horizon, filling the shadows with a rich, inky darkness. Lovely!

I walked for a while until this scene was framed against the diminishing afternoon sun. It’s not always easy to say why something ‘works’ – it just does…

Intricate nature in all her glory. Withdrawn, but with the forms of growth bare for us all to see and marvel at. And the fence and gate provided a nice counterpoint; suggesting that, for all our love of straight lines, the eye, at least, can play the two together.

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

#ShortWrytz: vertical panaroma

#ShortWrytz – short pieces inspired by photos I’ve taken

Some smart phones have a ‘Panorama’ feature within the photography options. This allows a left to right scan to be taken of the scene in front of you. You can make it as wide as you like, subject to a maximum of about 180 degrees. The trade-off is that the wider it is, the thinner the vertical slice of scenery, as below.

A typical panorama – a strip of Derbyshire.

It never crossed my mind to wonder what would happen if you did it vertically. Until I was faced with a massive oak tree and no room on the path to move backwards. The results weren’t great; the problem being that the light levels usually increase dramatically as you pivot up towards the sky, resulting in an over-exposed upper half of the shot. The other issue is that any deviation from a straight vertical distorts the image – particularly with ‘line features’ like trees.

But, occasionally, you get lucky and it’s worth the experiment. In the example below, I had no idea there was a small rainbow above me. Along with the graduated clouds, it made up a very magical sky.

If you have a panorama feature on your smartphone (and many people don’t realise they do) then give it a try. The first time you get something extraordinary, you’ll be hooked…

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.