Mugged by old age.


Self portrait in my 70th year

In the new year I was wandering amiably through life when I turned a corner.  And, around that corner, I was mugged. Mugged  by old age.

I didn’t see it coming though I should have. I began to feel it’s impending presence. But, I chose to ignore it. And yes, I had seen my father, even grandfather, in the mirror from time to time. That should have given me a clue but you know how it is.

So it was that I stepped into my 70th year and the full impact of old age  hit me. Nearly 70! Where the hell did that come from?

It hit me  like a runaway mobility scooter. And, as it passed, running over my legs,  it threw me a walking stick to help out until the full  geriatric chariot is needed.

Recently I was asked for a picture for an upcoming, retrospective, exhibition of my photography. So, this morning, I decided to let the old age have its way. Here’s the result.

I missed the shot!

Every photographer must say this at some time in their working life. If not to others, then inwardly, to themselves.

It happened to me recently. I had a visually boring and flat morning in Lincoln when I walked out of a coffee house straight into a wonderful picture. It was transient. It passed, dissolving as fast as it had occurred. I inwardly cursed by bad luck, or more accurately my lack of preparedness.
And then I remember a conversation I had with  a classically trained photographer back in the early 70’s. I had been bemoaning my bad luck missing a particular shot when the photographer I’m talking about, Tony Kubiak, a Yorkshireman of Polish descent, said

“it doesn’t matter. You saw it. It’ll stay with you without your having captured it. You saw it and others with less vision would have walked by oblivious”

Photographed only with my mind’s eye; I suppose this time I failed.

Must fail better next time. And the next time and so on, until…

Better still; follow the Boy Scout motto of “Be prepared”.

It’s architecture Jim; but not as we know it.

Recently I was discussing architectural photography with fellow F50Collective member John Meehan. In so doing I realised calling our images of the built environment “architectural photography” is wrong. Yes, the images are created in or around manmade structures but they are not necessarily pictures “of” the structures per se.



Museum, Marina Bay, Singapore.

Yes, sometimes the structure itself is such that an image of it draws my interest, like the picture here of a museum in Singapore for example. With its strong, sculptural shapes on the skyline. But, more often it’s some detail in the building, or the way the light hits certain elements, that takes the building to another, elevated more abstract level. This is what I and others are searching for.





Whether it’s the extraordinary detail seen up close like in the image below of a building in Liverpool by Tony Harrat. Or the beguiling shape of a building’s interior as in the shot bottom of the page by John Meehan, what man constructs is fascinating as a whole or in detail and seen by some, including me, as a sculptural art form.
Tony and John’s images are posted here are from the f50 Collective site.



Liverpool architecture by Tony Harrat



Museum, Liverpool by John Meehan

A story of strife, and yet…

Whilst in India last year I took this picture of a lady, a doll maker, up in Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The picture has haunted me ever since. It’s a portrait of an elderly lady taken whilst she was at work. I was considering using it as the image on the poster for an upcoming exhibition. Subsequently, I chose another, less personal, image.

In conversation with Mona,the owner of the doll workshop, Dolls4Tibet, I discovered a little about the lady. Subsequently my friend, film-maker and photographer, Abhishek Madhukar, interviewed Brahmo Didi, that is the lady’s name. Here is her life in her own words.
These words are moving and inspiring. In the developed world we really don’t understand the hardships endured by those in the developing world. And we should.

“I am not sure of my exact year of birth but I think I should be around 66 or 67 years old.
I was born around here near Dharamsala and lost my mother as a child, I was raised by my stepmother.
Later I was married at the age of 15. I lost my husband at the age of 24, to some unknown sickness due to stomach pain. 
I moved back to Dharamsala from my in-laws place after the death of my husband as I faced a lot of problems and was not wanted there. I sold off whatever little farmland I had and I bought a small piece of land and built a mud hut in Gamru village (close to the dollmakers studio). I was 24 so I could work on the farm but after my husband’s death it became difficult to farm, tend to cattle and take care of the girls – I had my three daughters to look after alone.
I now have two cemented rooms added to the mud  house which I rent to Tibetan refugees for a monthly rent of 2,000 Rs a month each (20 Pounds). Over that I make money from working at Dolls for Tibet and knitting clothes for dolls which provides me enough money to survive and live a peaceful life. 
Earlier I used to work part time at other people’s houses as a cleaner and a maid,  but now I am unable to do heavy work so I quit that.
My life so far has been all right (her eyes tear up when she begins speaking about her life’s experience). I earned some on my own and God gave me the rest. I managed to educate my three daughters, the eldest one I could only educate till 5th grade, the middle one till 12th grade and the youngest till her graduation. I got all of them married they all live in other towns and cities and we meet sometimes.

I tell them and all others to…

Do well, don’t lie, work with honesty and courage. Don’t bad mouth others.

There are always tough and trying times and we must overcome them. No one can be there for you at all times, when there is trouble then only you yourself have to live through it.  And we must have faith in god.
When things are good family, friends and everyone’s around. When things go wrong no one wishes to be around.  I have seen this in my own life. 
By keeping myself busy knitting for Dolls for Tibet and earning money I pass my time, I feel better doing this rather than sitting at home and doing nothing. Sometimes I think that I find life difficult now, whereas earlier I had no time to think. I woke up before sunrise, I tended to cattle, I cooked for my children, sent them to school, worked on the farm. Milked the cows, sold the milk to earn money, take the cows out to graze, cut firewood before dark to cook the meals on, Take care of my daughters. 

Now I am alone and my mind wanders, as I don’t have much to do, so I think a lot.”

I am told “Grandma Didi” is always cheerful. She sings and dances to keep the others working there entertained and happy.

All the troubles of the world and sitting in a coffee shop.

Coffee shops have long been the place where issues are sorted. London had many coffee shops in the 1700 / 1800’s,  many of which were where shares were traded, deals were done and politicians held court.

Today, happenings in coffee shops are not quite as deep. Just coffee, a chat with friends, maybe a glance at the local or national papers, or perhaps just  plugging into the wifi to communicate with the world.

Thus it was I found myself in a coffee house in Lincoln recently, head stuck in my iPad. I happened to glance up to see a tiny young girl, perhaps  15 or so , and an older chap, maybe her brother of about 18 /20. They were sitting in front of me.

Let me explain the layout of this place. It has a large semi circular bay around which people sit looking into a couple of tables in the centre of the room.

I occupied one such table around the edge of the bay looking into the middle, as I’ve said. The couple sat there. She with hunched shoulders, elbows close to her body, pulling one hand through the other repeatedly. Occasionally she would take one hand and rub her thin leg slowly by pushing the hand down from thigh to knee with her thumb on one side of her leg and the fingers on the other. All the while weeping gently.

The tears came from eyes that were not contorted, running down her cheek to be mopped up with the tissue she had in her hand, scrunched, ragged and wet.

She was a picture of misery. Absolute misery. Her partner talked to her constantly; occasionally reaching over to her to rub her shoulder and upper arm in a conciliatory manner. All to no avail.

I was not the only one aware of the private drama being played out so publicly in front of us. Two elderly ladies cast glances from the window seats. Their brows knitted with concern; muttering to each other and looking. The Barista flicked glances at the couple as he exaggeratedly dried some cups with a tea town near by. He too was concerned.

I felt I wanted to say something. I resisted. It would have been interfering.

I sat there for perhaps 30 minutes. I could stand it no longer. I left.

It was like watching a puppy drown.  Unable to do anything but watch.

I don’t normally talk to them but today…

Today I was pounced upon by a Jehovahs witness. I normally pass on by but today I decided to talk. The conversation proved interesting.

Before he started on his prepared speech I quoted the Stephen Fry argumentBone cancer in children? What’s that about. Why should I respect a capricious, mean minded, stupid  God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?

That slowed him down a bit but he explained the bone cancer in children by quoting “The sins of the fathers is passed on to the children”

What…! So, not only, according to Mr Fry is this man’s God ‘capricious, mean minded and stupid’ but he is also vindictive and a torturer of innocents, willing to maim children because of their fathers “misdemeanours”. This is  a debased, medieval utter bastard of a deity. And thus truly not worthy of any respect or following.

But I went on… what about the ever forgiveness of the almighty? If he is so forgiving of the sinner why then is he not forgiving of the children of that sinner? No answer was forthcoming.

Such bollocks. It’s simply a device to keep the ‘religiously imprisoned’ in line and pacified, willing to accept anything and do anything lest they or their offspring are tortured by a creature of their own imaginings. Some beneficent religion this I thought.

But he went on to explain ‘there is proof of God because of all the millions of worlds there must be we are the only one with humanity. That can’t be a coincidence’ said he. It shows design and a  power of a deity.

So I asked how did he know there were no others? He replied ‘we have not seen them therefore they don’t exist’.  Hmmm Like God I said.

Not pleased with the direction this conversation was taking he returned to the argument of the sins of the father. Pointing to a pamphlet on the ‘messages in the cells of the human body’ he argued that like genetics sin is passed on from father to child.

So life is about nature and not nurture then I asked. Perplexed he asked why I said that.

Well if it’s about nature, as you argue,  and not nurture, that points to evolution which dispels your myth of creationism doesn’t it? And if not nurture then all your ministering is of no value surely.

We had touched on other things but his argument on those was about as profound. 

We shook hands and parted. Both unmoved and none the wiser.

Yes, another trip to India.

We are off to India soon. This will be the third (and maybe the last) time we visit this wonderful country. This time we are going to McLeod Ganj in Himachel Pradesh Via Delhi of course. and thence on to Southern and Eastern India. We haven’t decided where yet, or even where we are flying out of to come home. 

We travelled for 2 months in 2014 only making scant bookings before we left and we propose to do the same again; this time for just a month but only in India instead of the host of countries we visited last year. It will give us a bit more focus we think and although we intend to take some flights we wont be spending quite so much time in the air as we did during twenty or so flights we took last year.

India is breathtaking in so many ways; crowds, traffic, colour, beggars, amazing architecture, history, wonderful forts and palaces and of course the utter charm of its people.

The photograph below says it all for me. It was taken in a fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan. I have this as a screen saver. It’s not meant to be any sort of artistic picture it just captures the place, time and feel of India. The elephants. The colours of the dresses. The haphazardness of the country – a motorbike riding through the courtyard –  and if you take a look at the background… that’s the perimeter wall of the fort, stretching for miles up and down crazy inclines. And all the stone was hewn, dressed, carried and laid by hand. There are many, many such forts and palaces. Imagine the effort, the labour and wonder why India never ruled the world.  And to give you some idea of scale the top of the walls are large enough for a chariot pulled by 4 horses to pass along. As I say breathtaking.

Fort and palace. Jaipur, India.

Fort and palace. Jaipur, India. (Click image to enlarge)

If you haven’t been to India then go… it should be top of anybody’s  bucket list. It will change your perspective on life. It did mine. And of course the food is great.