Monday, April 13, 2015

The Guernsey

Lihou Island, off the west coast of Guernsey.  
Oh, how I'd love to live in that little house.

Throughout the 17th Century, back when stockings were the height of fashion, the highest fashion stockings that your guineas could buy were made on the island of Guernsey.  Word has it that Elizabeth I wore them, Admiral Lord Nelson endorsed them as part of Naval uniform, and that Mary Queen of Scots wore Guernsey stockings at her execution.  When stockings fell from favour however, the fishermen's wives of the Channel Island Bailiwick stepped up and saved the island's knitwear industry with their classic and practical jumpers. 

Yours truly, rowing ashore with the help of my navy blue nautical knitwear.

Originally hand-knitted using tightly twisted woollen yarn that was rich in lanolin, the guernsey was and is a warm and practically waterproof (thanks to the waxy lanolin) garment, with a symmetrical front and back so that it can be worn out evenly.  My friend Matt who was born and raised on Guernsey claims that the "back-to-front" style meant that fishermen could wipe their fish-gut caked hands on the front and then just turn it around, so that they could carry on as if they weren't covered in blood and slime.  The distinctive ribbed pattern at the top of the sleeves represents a ship's rope ladder, the garter stitch panel along the bottom depicts waves breaking on a beach and the stitching on the shoulders represents pebbles, stones and sand.  Guernseys are still produced on the island by a team of six or seven people at Guernsey Woollens, and whilst you can purchase one in a range of colours most people apparently still choose navy blue - and why wouldn't you?  There are some classic items of clothing out there that have long stood the test of time and will no-doubt continue to do so, and this is surely one of them.  If you ever find yourself having to pack one jumper, and one jumper alone, then try your best to make it a guernsey.  

 Les Hanois Lighthouse off the coast of Guernsey was constructed using Cornish granite with the blocks dovetailed together both laterally and vertically so that once set in place they could not be separated without being broken.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Four Day Festival of Froth

Ten days ago the second annual Approaching Lines Festival of Surf (presented by Reef) wrapped up, following 3 nights of surf films on an enormous cinema screen and a single fin surf contest that went down in classic conditions.  I was fortunate enough to be there as event photographer again, which meant that in between squeezing through the crowds to photograph everyone enjoying a beer in the intermission, I also got to sneak in and watch a few great movies from the back of the auditorium.  It's really great to see the various Approaching Lines events gaining so much popularity within the surf community, as British surfers continue to get behind the sort of events that bring us all together and break our bad habits of sticking to our own crew at our local beach.  It's a real pleasure to be a part of it all, regardless of the surf movies and complimentary beers...

Here're a few of my favourite shots from across the 4-day event, held in Newquay.  Hopefully I'll see a few more of you there next year.

Life size surf movies, and then some.

Shakas for Deus' new movie "North to Noosa".

Berads and beers, both courtesy of the fine folks at Sharps.

Event Director Chris Nelson, broadcasting.

There were sell-out crowds throughout the festival, not least for Kai Neville's latest shred-fest "Cluster" which had crew queuing out the door. 

Not least because the man himself was there to present his latest offering and do a Q&A after the credits stopped rolling, along with Saffa ripper Brendon Gibbens who features in Cluster.

Trying to make a multiplex look nice with light trails at dusk and all that...

James Parry about to paddle out for his heat in the Reef classic single fin invitational.

Sam Lamiroy running down the beach in front of the Headland Hotel.

A loomer rearing up out back.

Sam Lamiroy launching off the end section.  He stuck some solid moves in heat 1.

Heat 1 contestants (L-R) James Parry, Sam Lamiroy, Gee Piper, Toby Donachie, Neil Holland and Tom Anderson.

Heat 2 contestants Archie Cross, Sarah Bentley, Alan Stokes (Victor), Sam Boex and John Eldridge.

Alan Stokes did about 8 of these on the same wave, all the way to the inside at Little Fistral.  If I had been shooting film I would've burned through a whole roll on this wave alone.

Sam Boex took out the "Most Stylish" award, and rightly so.

This year's champ, Mr Alan Stokes.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sibling Harmony

A few years ago I listened to a documentary on the radio about sibling harmony - the singing sort though, not the sort illustrated by two brothers restraining themselves from punching each other.  It looked at how the combined vocals of siblings produced a much more natural and almost inseparable harmony than that produced by any other group of singers, no matter how good their individual voices.  One of the main reasons for this is because siblings share so many physical features, such as the shape of their noses or the colour of their eyes, and so it stands to reason that their voices will be similar too.  Add to that the fact that these voices resonate within physically similar chambers in the mouth and nose which amplify and colour the tones, so that the singing of brothers and sisters is of a similar timbre.  That's nature taken care of, but "nurture" factors such as accent and vocal intonations will also play their role in ensuring that when family members sing together their voices blend together as one.  Just think about the number of famous singing family groups since the 1940s.  And then add the Staveley-Taylor sisters to your list, better known as The Staves.
A few summers ago I had the pleasure of photographing The Staves at an acoustic gig on a beach here in Cornwall, organised by my oldest friend Alex.  He recently worked with the singing sisters again to produce a couple of Take Away Shows with French music videography pioneers La Blogothèque, and the results are wonderful.  Take a listen, and a look too.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Trials and Tribulations

Man, machine, and a whole lot of mud.  Whether the challenge is to coax a vintage car non-stop up a series of muddy hill stages, or manoeuvre a motorbike over boulders and through rivers without putting a foot down, trials events require great technical skill, mechanical know-how, and an intimate connection between a vehicle and the person controlling it.  I've attended a couple of trials events over the past couple of months, carrying a couple of old cameras (one 35mm SLR and a 120mm TLR) loaded with black and white film with the intention of shooting some of the more interesting (read: old) vehicles that I spotted.  I got the roll of 35mm back from the lab a little over a week ago, and wanted to share a selection from my winter wading around the woods in gum boots following the noise of engines.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Terrariums: A Garden in a Glass

Indoor Ecosystems

A couple of years ago I read an article in an Australian magazine about a lady in Melbourne who had left her job to make terrariums for a living.  Until that moment I had no idea what a terrarium was.  It turns out that a terrarium is my kind of gardening, ultra low maintenance and an opportunity to let your imagination have a bit of exercise.  Essentially, a terrarium (or “bottle garden” as they’re otherwise known) is a plant or collection of plants in a glass container that is usually sealed thus creating a mini biosphere.  Condensation forms on the inside of the glass and then trickles down to water the plants in a continuous and completely natural cycle.  I have a patchy track record for keeping plants alive, so something that doesn’t require any input from me gives the greenery the best chance of survival.

"The Search for The Giant Buddha", for Kate

You can also create scenes in terrariums, kind of as you would in a goldfish tank, adding ornaments or figures to make the whole thing a bit more engaging.  If you’re making a terrarium as a gift for somebody then this aspect of it allows you to tailor it to the recipient.  I’ve made a few now – two as gifts and one for myself just because I’d collected too much moss and felt bad about throwing it away, so I stuffed it in a kilner jar and carved a little Easter Island Moai from a lump of foam to make it more interesting before sticking it on my shelf. 

My mossy Easter Island Moai terrarium

Want to make a world in a jam jar?  Here’s how:

·   Find a suitable (lidded) glass container that has an opening large enough to get your hand into so that you can actually plant stuff in it.  Charity shops are great sources of weird old glassware, or you could use a kilner jar, old coffee cafetierre etc etc…
·   Put a layer of small pebbles or gravel (I would never condone pinching a pocketful from a driveway…) mixed with “horticultural charcoal” (I crunched up some charcoal rescued from the bottom of our fire) about 2cm deep at the bottom of the jar.
·   Cover this with a piece of fine metal or plastic gauze so that the soil doesn’t just fall through and fill in the gaps.  Sourcing this is probably the most difficult part of the entire process.
·   Add 5cm or so of moist potting soil on top and tamp it down a bit.
·   Go and buy some plants.  You need to select plants that are preferably “dwarf” and prefer high humidity and low light, so stuff like ferns, fittonias (nerve plants) dwarf ivies and miniature orchids.  Don’t go for cacti or succulents if you’re putting a lid on it.
·   Forage some moss to fill in the gaps (probably wear a pair of gloves), but don’t import any creepy crawlies into your miniature world.
·   Make some holes in your soil and plant in your plants, tamping the soil down around each one.
·   Add some interesting “stuff”.  In the past I’ve put in a little sandstone Buddha head statue with a couple of turn of the century “explorer” railway figurines stuck to the top, pulled a broken camera lens apart to use the aperture movement as a gateway for zombies, and modelled an Easter Island moai.  Let your imagination run with it, do something that will make you smile, and don’t blame me if you end up with an account at a model railway shop or a permanent digital record of the fact that you once googled “nazi zombie figurines”…
·   Water the plants lightly with one of those spray bottles, and then close the lid.  If condensation forms on the inside of the glass then it’s working nicely.
·   Place your terrarium out of direct sunlight – most of the plants inside are probably “forest floor” plants so don’t like direct sunlight much. 
·   Every few weeks take the lid off to let a bit of fresh air in.  When you put the lid back on check to see if condensation forms again, and if it doesn’t then give it a little squirt of water.  Basically, your terrarium will let you know if it needs a drink.
·   Enjoy your maintenance free indoor garden!

The Zombie Apocalypse, for Alex

You can find a load more information about terrariums here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

From Bottles to Boardshorts

Very often the only time that I read any of the one newspaper that I buy each week during the winter is when I am tearing it up whilst laying a fire each evening.  This week, one small article in the Saturday Telegraph (not my preferred broadsheet, I must admit) caught my eye, titled “The world is drowning in plastic waste”.  I paused in my fire building and sat back on the lounge floor to read it.

It reported that each year more plastic is being dumped in the oceans than was produced worldwide in the 1960s.  That is the equivalent of five shopping bags full of plastic waste being thrown into the sea for every foot of the world’s coastline.  Shameful, huh? 
The world produced 299 million tons of new plastic last year but a new report by Washington’s Worldwatch Institute claims that in Europe we only recycle a quarter of our plastic waste, burning another third for heat or power.  In the USA less than 10% is recycled.  And what becomes of the rest?  Thrown away.   

Clearly we have a significant problem on our hands, and one that’s true impact has yet to be revealed. 

Riz Boardshorts are all too aware of this ticking time bomb, and have set out on a mission to become the world’s first 100% recycled and recyclable boardshort brand – a worthy mission in my eyes.  Their aim is not just to use recycled polyester for all of their products, but also to utilise recycled plastics in all of the other components that are often overlooked by companies producing “recycled” clothing – elements like trims, zippers, buttons and Velcro.  They aren’t stopping at a recycled item of clothing that you can send back to them when worn out to be recycled again, however, and want to take it all one-step further.  Their plan is to take plastic bottles collected from beaches and turn that marine litter into a pair of boardshorts.  They’re currently coming towards the end of a crowdfunding campaign to help them achieve this, and are just a short way off their target with a week to go.  Please check it out and if you like what they’re doing or fancy any of the rewards that they’re offering in return for pledges then please go ahead and support them.  

I’ve harped on enough in past blog posts about the various things that you can do to reduce the amount of plastic that you use and tackle the problem of marine plastic pollution, so I won’t repeat myself.  I will say, however, that the Surfers Against Sewage Big Spring Beach Clean series is taking place again this March, over the weekend of the 28th and 29th which is the first weekend of the school Easter holidays.  I’ll be helping out with the Polzeath beachclean on Sunday morning organised by Cornish Rock Tors.  If you can join us there (11am start) that would be wonderful, or if you can attend another beach clean event or simply do a #2minutebeachclean next time you visit the beach then it all counts just the same.  Every little helps, after all.

Images of James Otter of Otter Surfboards, shot for Riz Boardshorts.  James and Riz recently interviewed each other about their respective companies attempts to reduce their environmental impact.  You can check out James interviewing Riz here, and Riz interviewing James here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Brilliant Bivalves

There’s a small oyster and mussel restaurant on the edge of the harbour in Falmouth, Cornwall, tucked down a narrow alleyway next to a chandlery and opposite a sailmakers.  You’d never know the alley was there if you hadn’t had the occasion to go shopping for marine hardware bits in the past, and if you go more than five steps past the closed door you could easily fall into the dark waters of the harbour. 
It serves nothing but shellfish.  They only accept cash.  It’s one of the most highly regarded food destinations in south Cornwall and you have to book well in advance.  A few of us got lucky last weekend and scored a cancellation, allowing us to enjoy some oysters (the final four that they had left) in celebration of a project that we completed last year for Hog Island Oyster Co in California. 
It set me to thinking; despite being an island nation with strong, deep, ties to the seas that surround us, we British have developed some funny attitudes to shellfish. 
Shortly after being commissioned to write the web copy for Hog Island’s new website I gave a friend-of-a-friend called Nick a lift to a stag party a few hours drive away.  He got in the car after work on the Friday and we got talking, and within a few minutes he told me about his PhD doctorate thesis, studying consumer attitudes to shellfish consumption in the UK.  The shellfish industry plays an important part of the Cornish economy, with £10 million in landings in 2013, however the vast majority of its output is shipped abroad to markets in mainland Europe.  I went to Falmouth Oyster Festival at the end of 2013 as part of my initial research and of all the stalls serving food, there were only two serving oysters and they had pretty short queues.  There were plenty of foodie types wandering around, but few prepared to put their money where their mouths were and actually eat oysters at an oyster festival.  Why?  When did the British public forget that they enjoyed shellfish?  Why has Nick’s research found that so many people feel excluded from “posh” shellfish, consider it a risky choice and have little to no idea of how shellfish are cultivated and harvested?
We used to eat loads of oysters in centuries past – in Victorian London oysters were viewed as far from exclusive and were more commonly consumed as a cheap source of protein amongst the poor and destitute of the capital’s East End.  But then, as in many other oyster-rich regions around the world, natural resources were over-harvested and stocks collapsed.  By the time you get around to the modern day, when oysters are carefully cultivated and harvested, the post war mechanisation of food production and a mid-century desire to be able to mass-produce and sell us our food frozen or in tins did the British public’s attitude to consuming raw shellfish no favours.  That is changing, but slowly, and I still believe we’re an awfully long way behind mainland Europe, American and Australasia.  It makes me thankful that I grew up in a house with a shucking knife in the cutlery drawer (in a special box of tools labelled "seafood and eat it").

But I digress; prior to going off on an enormous tangent I had every intention of sharing with you some of the incredible oyster facts that I learnt whilst working on the Hog Island project.  I did a lot of background reading, digging through my collection of Steinbeck for references to oysters and learning an enormous amount from Rowan Jacobsen’s incredibly well written (and witty) “A Geography of Oysters”.  Did you know, for example, that oysters are one of the few organisms that actually lose the ability to move and see as they develop?  Yup, as larvae, oysters are able to move (by fluttering tiny cilia hairs) and differentiate light and dark (i.e. up and down) using a primitive “eye” – both of which they immediately devolve once they have found their spot and cemented themselves to their preferred substrate.  Once locked in place they have no further need for such trivial things as seeing and moving, and retaining both of these abilities simply diverts energy away from their chief tasks of eating and reproducing.  The lack of such recognisable requirements for a regular life as eyes and legs should really make them modern society’s ideal food source, as there go most of our qualms about eating a sentient organism. 
Oysters are also very good for the marine environment:  In order to eat, bivalves such as oysters filter seawater across their gills and filter out any plankton to eat.  Oysters can filter as much as fifty gallons a day, so the argument for them actually improving an ecosystem is a very strong and scientifically proven one.  Oyster farms are environmentally benign and are high up on most lists of sustainable seafood.  Before I keep on writing and do myself out of any more work, I probably ought direct you to the Science and Policy pages of the Hog Island site, where you can read plenty more about sustainable shellfish farming and their research into ocean acidification.  And if you’re hungry to get more brass tacks on bivalves then check out “A Geography of Oysters”.

I hope that the next time you have the opportunity to hold an oyster up to your lips and tip your head back you recall this post and choose to do so.  I certainly will, if for no other reason than because they TASTE OF THE SEA, and I bloody love the sea.

All images courtesy and copyright of Hog Island Oyster Co.