Old and new

While wandering around the nature reserve in Essex the other day I came across these remnants of an old pier. A little further inland there is a massive concrete wall, with signs of a futile attempt at explosive demolition.

An explanatory notice by the wall indicated that these are remains of a former sand and gravel extraction plant, of which there are a number in this area along the River Colne. What is now a wildlife reserve was once an industrial site. 

Driving away later, I went along a single carriageway road with passing places - seemingly newly-surfaced. It went through a very odd piece of landscape with earth piled on either side. When I parked and looked over one of these ramparts, I found present day extraction going on, with a mechanical digger shovelling sand into a hopper feeding a conveyor belt that headed away into the distance. 

In-flight entertainment

Dragonfly lifting off after drinking in flight from a pond

Let’s say at once I’m not a wildlife photographer.  But I do like wildlife. And, visiting the nature reserve at Fingringhoe Wick, it would be only - natural - to have a camera along and stick something longish on the front of it. In this case the Nikon D3s with 70-200mm zoom and 2x converter. 

For seabirds - for the most part, forget it, unless you’ve got a lens that’s currently out of my reach. Pleasant enough sitting in a hide watching the shoreline on such a balmy spring day - although a bit boring, I’m told by a regular. Winter is where the action is in Essex, with thousands of migrant visitors.  But photographically, something of an overstretch for me. 

However, back from the shore at a freshwater pond, other flying things present a different challenge: dragonflies are tantalisingly within reach. And this is where you could go mad trying to ‘capture’ them. I quickly learnt:

  • They move very quickly
  • They hover for maybe one second - like that - then move on; just enough time to begin to frame them
  • They are however territorial, it would seem
  • So if you wait 20 or 30 seconds as they do the rounds, they come back to the same spot

Combine these last two and you are in with a chance. Even so, photographing them ‘on the fly’ is not easy, so I was quite pleased to get anything at all. 

Aren’t they fabulous?  Incidentally if anyone can tell me what type they are I’d be grateful. [EDIT: Libellula quadrimaculata or Four-spotted Chaser, thank you Mrs Diemoz.]

And these …? (and what are they up to?)

Ah! I think these two are Pyrrhosoma nymphula, the Large Red Damselfly. I have now discovered the British Dragonfly Society. I should have known. 

High speed walk

A Saturday stroll through the Misbourne Valley: targeted for obliteration by the HS2 rail line.  

OK I exaggerate. Targeted for a huge tunnel entrance in fact, as part of the London to Birmingham white elephant. Personally I prefer the landscape as it is, notwithstanding the existing dual carriageway road and a twin track rail line.

The locals - who enjoy some of the most gorgeous housing in England - are not happy. 

We lay in a field of long grass and watched a red kite swooping on baby rabbits. Of course I only had the little PEN with me and totally the wrong lens for these sort of wildlife antics. 


Pottering about in West Mersea, I happened to be walking right next to the RNLI inshore lifeboat station when its alarm sounded. 

Men came running from the adjacent boat park and went inside. The front door rolled up, and the twin outboard engines were cranked upwards as the boat in its launch cradle was backed down the ramp by its big-wheeled tractor. Into the water and away - I reckon, within four minutes from the shout. I don’t know what their target is but as a sailor I was impressed. 

It was such a glorious afternoon that it seemed incongruous that someone should be in difficulty out at sea, though of course all sorts of accidents can happen. I asked two men who had remained at the boathouse where the lifeboat had gone to. 

“Boat sinking,” one said. “Off old Tollesbury pier.”  I know no more for now. 

The lifeboat’s name by the way is City of Bradford V (quite a mouthful for a RIB). It bears the number B-753. 

And the next one please

In Dad’s Taxi back to Pigott’s Farm, where auditions are being held for VFDrama’s next escapade: Romeo and Juliet. 

Pigott’s is famous in amateur music circles, I learn, for its music camps, which date back many years and were brought to the farm by the late father of the present owner. I came across an obituary of him that was published in The Independent in 1997. 

It’s a delightful place and one can see how it inspires music, painting, indeed a general focus on whatever artistic endeavour is in hand.  

Brave face

I’m going to revisit something I posted a little over a month ago mentioning the renowned education journalist and former BBC correspondent Mike Baker.  

I photographed him as he was chairing an event I was at. He looked the very picture of health, charm and bonhomie. 

Well, he wasn’t. Now that he himself has gone public with it, I can say that - although none of us knew at the time - Mike, who has never smoked and always kept very fit, running and cycling, was about to be diagnosed with lung cancer when these pictures were taken.  

You wouldn’t wish such a condition on anyone, obviously - but good grief, Mike Baker?! Everyone who knows and loves him (and they are many) is shocked and wishes him the very best as he goes into treatment - which I must say he seems to be tackling with all the courage, intelligence, thoroughness and indeed self-deprecating humour (what can chemo do to his hair that nature wasn’t already?) that make him the splendid person he is. 

A year ago I was also ending a long and far less distinguished career with the BBC (latterly also as an education correspondent) to seize the very lucky opportunity to spend more time with those I love and doing the things I love. Mike’s predicament is one of those cold wet slaps in the face that remind us why that is always the right thing to do. 

Your Boat

Announcing a new service: Your Boat: photographs taken on the water of your boat, doing what you most enjoy. 

I am very excited to be launching (as it were) this operation under the web branding of sailphotos.co.uk. Search by name, sail number, type, etc. 

The photographs are taken using professional digital SLR cameras and lenses. Any that fail my quality checks are discarded. ALL are given attention in ‘post processing’: correcting horizon levels, cropping, optimising colour and so on.

The results are superb boat portraits that you can have made using archival quality inks and papers by an expert lab - pictures you will be proud to display in your home or clubhouse. 

As well as ordering prints you can buy a royalty free licence to download a digital copy directly to your computer immediately, from only £10. Why not take a look.

Ai Weiwei

‘Escape’: Sunflower Seeds 2010, Tate Modern (detail)

On a recent jaunt through London I stopped off as I was passing right by Tate Modern, to see the huge Sunflower Seeds installation by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Wow! I was intrigued to see that it was - well, growing… gathering dust and other detritus. Symbolic [of the way a certain large country is run] or what? 

So now they’ve banged him up on some spurious allegation or other. And they don’t know why everyone is making a fuss. So make a bigger fuss. I have sent this e-mail to the cultural section of the Chinese embassy in London: 

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Tate Modern art gallery and was hugely impressed by the ‘Sunflower Seeds’ installation there by a Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. You must be very proud of his achievements. I should like to write to Mr Ai: could you tell me what is the best way to contact him, please?

Thank you,

Oh well, bang goes my visa. Fascinating country. It has dinosaurs.