Friday, July 13, 2012

Granny Takes A Trip

Greetings me old soaks.
There's a slow moving shower with your name on it and it is heading your way. At least that's what it seems like.
This week your Cap'n is in reflective mood. Were times better in days of yore? Is the advancement of society better or worse now? Are we heading to the edge, or will we keep on sailing to some nice sunset?
I don't know. All I do know is me bones are weary and the Goode Shippe FB needs work done, so we're going to lash up in port, get the jobs done, and then put up our umbrellas and go and sit on the Poop Deck, talking Poop and drinking same and getting same.
Also, me old Mog is in the final twelve cats for the 100 metre Kattomeat Dash, so good luck to him.
We also have to recharge our supplies.
Oh and our erstwhile gentleman passenger, Mr.Sheephouse, needs to make some photographs, so we need to accomodate his needs too.
Stay dry Poopsters.


Back in my old Virgin Records days, my manager had a nickname for me: "Granny".
In a weird happenstance I can now apply that nickname to a new acquisition and allude to an altogether more innocent time when you could name boutiques after strange things and get away with it . . . hence the title of today's FB.
My best friend Steve, mistakenly told me a while ago that he had picked up an old Olympus Trip 35 at a car boot sale for a couple of quid. Nothing remarkable in that you might think. But little did he know how I was going to badger him to death about whether he wanted it nearly every week for years! He has been digital for a very long time, so I didn't think he'd be using it, save as a weapon to cudgle me with.
It was an exciting prospect.
He eventually caved in and is still there, at home, curled foetal style in the corner, clutching his head and muttering "lens cap" . . . whilst the Trip is in my pocket.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Olympus Trip 35 (to give it its proper nom de plume) I ask you to cast your mind back to the late 1970's/early 1980's and a TV advert with the tag line 'Who do you think you are? David Bailey?'
The ad showed Bailey upstaging a 'professional' at a wedding, using nothing more than the lowly Trip. I say lowly, but actually the RRP for these small mechanical marvels in 1980 was £55.95, though they commonly sold for £49.99 which, as they say, was not an insignificant amount of money at the time.
In inflation terms, now that is about £225.

 The extremely handsome Mr.David  Bailey in action.
He looks like he should be in a foreign film as an investigative journalist.

To get some idea of relative costs, my first 35mm SLR bought in 1980 was an Olympus OM10 for which I paid the grand sum of £115 from Comet, and that included a flash unit and an ever ready case. So, whilst just half the price of the OM, the Trip was still a decent amount of money.
The Olympus Optical Company must have had an enormous faith and profit margin in the Trip. 10,000,000 were sold over its 17 year lifetime from its introduction in 1967, which in itself is a pretty remarkable thing.

My apologies to 'All Rights Reserved' on Flickr. Yes I have used your scan and yes I have tidied it up - sorry.
This is a Trip ad circa 1980.

With this little round-up, I am not going to go into all the usual doo-dads everyone does when writing about Trips, I will however try and give you an honest and slightly weird new users impression.
First off, it is small, but chunky. It has the heft of an object filled with bits of metal (which it is). It is a wonder of ingenuity, in that it is utterly simple.
You have a dial for setting apertures when using flash, and on the same dial a nice red A. This signifies Automatic mode and is its usual mode of employment.
In front of this is your four stage focus dial, and in front of that an ASA dial for setting your film speed.
The Trip uses Zone Focusing, a concept which meant that even if you were an idiot (unless you were a total one) setting the little focus ring to either One HeadTwo Heads, Three People or A Mountain, meant that you could produce an acceptable photograph. Basically it extends the lens for close focus and moves it back towards the body for infinity. The zones encompass bands of distance and if set properly, everything within those bands should be sharp. The bands are narrower the closer the focus. The automatic nature of the aperture takes care of depth of field, but this can vary quite wildly, so my tip later on about using faster film is all the more appropriate.
Operation is easy, set the zone of focus and click. You will obtain an acceptable result. When I say acceptable, they're actually more than that - they are rather super actually.

The simplicity belies the truth - the 40mm Zuiko lens (a Tessar design) is really good, and whilst it won't produce results that are the same as an SLR lens, I would say it comes as close as a gnat's whisker.
Millions and millions of 'snaps' must have been taken with this little marvel, and yet, despite their current cult status, they are overlooked and old fashioned.
Why use something where the shutter is virtually instantaneous when you can use a more modern camera with that oh so prevalent shutter lag?
Why use something where you have to use a little of that addled lump of offal and electricity between your ears when a device can do it all for you and take away the worry of not getting it right?
Why rely on a beautifully simple fixed lens and your ability to move around and interact with the action, when you can get a modern compact with a reasonably noisy zoom and stand well back.
I can add a lot more things (on film cameras) like noisy motors instead of a simple thumb-wheel, and a crank for rewinding; then there's the dreaded digital pregnant pause where your memory is being stuffed with the image, and all that buffering is going on, shunting and puffing . . .
But I think what I am trying to ask, is who in the world of camera manufacturers decided that us happy snappers wanted a battery eating device which did absolutely everything for us?
To illustrate this go and fetch your compact camera.
I assume it will be a digital one . . if it isn't, well done, take your seat on the other side of the lifeboat and we can compare notes later on.
Now, switch your camera on and listen. There's the whirr as the lens extends.
Point your camera at anything and press the shutter release.
This is where FB gets a tad weird because:

I a . . m . . . .g . . .o . . . i. . . . n . . . . .g . . . . .t . . . . .o . . . . . s . . . . .l . . . . . o . . . . .w . . . . . y . . . . . o . . . . . . u . . . . . . r . . . . . .e . . . . . a . . . . . r . . . . . s . . . . . .d . . . . . . o . . .  . . . . w. . . . . . . n . . . . . .

Your finger has depressed the shutter release button and the gnome crushed by the electrical contact inside has sent a nano-llama cantering off into the depths of the camera. The nano-llama has a bit of paper pinned to it with a message on it. Inside your modern compact camera there's a tiny shrew's brain squashed and laid out on a tiny chip which makes all the decisions. The llama canters up, the shrew gets the message that the shutter has been released and sends more nano-llamas out to the nether regions of the camera with a series of questionaires. These have little check boxes which cover the permutations of light and distance and so on. The nano-gnomes manning the observation stations quickly check the boxes and send the nano-llamas back on their way. They arrive with a thunder of skidding hooves back at the shrew's nest where the shrew reads the boxes and makes a decision and sends more nano-llamas out with the appropriate instructions. The nano-gnomes crank the various cranks and a picture is taken.
Now why shrews you ask?
Well for a start their brains are tiny. Secondly, they might not be totally dim but they are a bit, however their brains are incredibly quick operating and they can pull together a lot of stimuli sharpish .  . you know . .
Earthworm or Beetle?
Snake or Hawk?
Kill or Run?
You might also be asking why llamas?
Well they are sure-footed on unsteady ground and entirely trustworthy.
Why Gnomes?
Well Gnomes are intelligent and cunning, but generally do as they are told.

N . . . o . . . w . . . w . . e . . . a . . . r . . . e . . . c . . .o. . . m . . .i . .n . . g. . b . .a . .c . .k .u . p . t . o . f .u .l l speed.

Listening carefully, what you heard was the sound of your autofocus hunting around a bit for something to focus on - generally the areas in the centre of the picture or even a face with that modern miracle, facial recognition * and then the sound of the shutter working.
You now know how this part of your camera works.
It is fortunate for your sanity that I haven't gone on about the engravers, and the good loaves of bread delivered by the battery bread van.

The Trip is different to your modern camera: a simple light gathering cell around the lens gathers light, generates an electrical current and operates a simple meter. A needle in the meter moves, and as you press the shutter button a series of cams move up on two pivoted arms to clamp the needle, and, depending on how far the needle has deflected, decide how much light is coming in by mechanical means. The shutter and aperture then react accordingly.
If there isn't enough light, or you have left the lens cap on then the shutter locks and red flag appears in the viewfinder telling you that you cannot take a picture.
If you think about it, it is an ingenious straight line road, whereas a 'modern' camera is actually a circuitous route.
The Trip is also fixable by unskilled hands (namely mine) whereas cameras relying on battery power are a lot harder to sort out.
It is also one of the few cameras that would be capapable of taking post-EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) photographs, in that there is nothing silicone-based to get fried.

But this is moving away (as usual) from the main meat and potatoes.
These days in Britain, using a camera in a crowd is often fraught with difficulty.
To any Police Officer or bystander you are a criminal scoping the place, or someone wishing to harm children, or a terrorist.
It's utterly ridiculous if you think about it, but entirely indicative of the suspicious and unwelcoming society we have become . .
I blame Cracker and Prime Suspect and all these TV criminal shows where your neighbour could be about to come around your house in the dead of night and remove your giblets through your nose whilst singing a Spice Girls song . .
And that's me getting away from the point again.
Please take the following with a pinch of salt - If you were interested in any of those dubious activities I would say that the Trip is almost the perfect camera for it, because it is small and light, and so totally simple. Granted you would have to get the film developed and you might be shopped by Boots or Jessops, but on the whole if you want a covert camera and can develop your own film, this is the camera for you.
The camera's beauty relies on a thing which is often ignored in film terms - that is the film's latitude, which in layman's terms is its forgiveness. Any negative film be it colour or black and white has a certain amount of error compensation built into it - this is so that it can deal with varying light conditions. It also meant that when colour film started to be used more commonly, that picture you took of your Gran waving a rubber chicken in the air whilst she was backlit by the setting sun, wouldn't look like Leatherface, silhouetted and coming at you with a chainsaw. The films latitude was able to deal (in part) with such wildly varying light conditions. Obviously it wasn't the panacea, but it helped and with an Olympus Trip 35, if there really isn't enough  light for the film to deal with, the camera will actually stop you wasting a frame. That is not always what you want, but seeing as the Trip only has 2 shutter speeds, it was a nifty bit of design to avoid disappointment.

Phew - this black with grey print is a bit relentless isn't it . . so here's some Daisies to break up your reading and give you a breather and let your eyes have a rest.

Feeling better?
Right, on with the march!
There are two ways around this though. The first is deceptively simple. Load fast film. Up to 400 ASA is fine on the Trip - it is calibrated to deal with that.
I tested mine with Rollei RPX 100 but it would have been better with something like Ilford Delta 400 or Kodak Tri-X. Basically anything of greater speed with a wide latitude to it. If you do decide on those two, then set the metering part of the camera to ASA 320. This way you will have enough balls in your shadow areas and if you use a compensating developer you won't over-do your highlights - pretty simple really.
The second is a cunning trick as deceptive as it is simple. If your Trip's shutter won't release and you get the red flag because it thinks there isn't enough light, point the camera at a brighter light source, depress the shutter halfway, keep holding it down and now get back to your dimly lit subject and make the photograph. Granted it might well be underexposed, but if you are using something like Dilution G HC110, the developer will ensure that whatever might be in the shadow detail is rendered. yes you'll have a thin negative but at least you will have one.

The above is a full-frame photograph made with Trip on the hoof whilst in St Andrews on a dreich and overcast day. The film was Rollei RPX 100 so not the world's fastest, however, as such it shows the extraordinary capability of the Trips simple design. There is shadow detail, there is a broad range of greys, there are good highlights. Pretty much everything I wanted to be in focus is, AND, I was able to take the picture sereptitiously - I doubt anyone was any the wiser for me taking this snap. You can actually see me to the right of the frame reflected in the window. There is an extraordinary amount of detail when you consider it was probably shot at about 1/40th of a second and probably around f5.6 and was shot quickly, so I wasn't being careful.

I was standing around minding my own business when a swarm of Italian youth exchange students came and stood in front of me. I thought Sod It and took a picture on the hoof again. Yes, there's camera shake and the composition is nil, however I was literally about 3 feet from the cool guy with the glasses, so that shows you how unobtrusive the Trip can be, although to be fair he spotted me!
It was a revelation to use it this way. Life-changing? No, but nearly, as, in the Trip, I have found something which leaves me totally free to break my normal photographic bounds and jump into the midst of the action without being obtrusive.
Of course Leica users have known this for years, but personally I have found it to be a revelation.
The Trip is SO simple that I defy anyone not to have fun with it.
If you are an SLR user then you are going to find the instantaneous quiet snick of the shutter a surprise.
If you are a confirmed digital camera user and have never used as simple a camera as this then you are going to be astonished at the feeling of being free from menus and lag and unnecessary fluff.
Forget buying yourself a nice suit and a set of cuban heels in Granny Takes A Trip. There's no need - this is naked photography at its most basic.
Everyone should try it - it is a very surprising and enjoyable experience.
Dear Steve - thanks mate for the wonderful gift.
And for the rest of you, stay warm, stay dry, God bless and thanks for reading.

* Fortunately Peter Gabriel back in 1970's Genesis days was never photographed with facial recognition software, because he would have confused it . . Face? Flower? Flower? Face?

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Royal Oak, White Waltham

Good weekend to you m'Dearios. 
This week I have been land-locked. 
The Goode Shippe FB has taken a hell of a pounding in dock and what with the repairs needed I didn't feel it worth risking everything. 
So land-locked we been. 
I've seen worse weather, but I have seen a lot better. 
A friend of mine took his family on holiday last week and he described the weather as 'Biblical'. I couldn't agree more. So in the meantime, I've battened down the hatches, put a pan of rum onto a gentle heat, plopped me old Mog in the chair beside me and dug out a good book.
If you're out and about in that lot, be safe and be careful.
Stay dry me beauties.


It's funny to me, but in writing this Blog, I have become ever more deeply aware that I was fortunate to have had a very good childhood. I mean that not just in the parent's and family I have and the way they raised me, but in my experiences.
Today's FB is about a pub.
Not just any pub mind you, no, this is The Royal Oak at White Waltham near Maidenhead in Berkshire.
It was run by my Uncle and Aunt, Joe and Enid Rogers.
Joe, my Dad's brother, and eldest son of the family, was the sort of chap who you could never dislike. He was a semi-legendary figure to me and the stories I have of him appearing on wartime doorsteps with massive catering tins of peaches and piles of army blankets, still make me laugh.
My Dad's family were good people. People people. You wouldn't get any angst off them, for they were too tightly bonded for that and had been raised in a proper manner by my Grandfather and Grandmother at a difficult part of the twentieth century. They weren't the sort of family who feuded. There were never any big fall-outs and despite being spread around Britain, familial love still resulted in regular letter writing and phone calls and visits.
As the eldest Joe had had to go and do his own thing and had moved South to 'the smoke' and met and married Enid, and together they did a lot of different things before moving into the pub trade. I think it was sociability factor that attracted Joe, for when they did eventually get there they found their vocation.
He was ever the quintessential genial landlord and she played the perfect supporting role.
The Royal Oak was an oasis in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, yet strangely it was busy all the time. You could always be greeted by a crowd of regulars on first name terms. There was an acceptance of weekend motorists and their newly acquired wheels. I think even then it was a place that people sought on reputation.
We lived not far away in Northolt, so often on Sundays we would go through to visit them. Getting there necessitated using a car though, as it was a distance of approximately 25 miles. A succession of old smokers did the job: a Morris Minor, a Vauxhall Victor and the pinnacle, an automatic Vauxhall Viva.
Our journey took us along the relatively newly constructed M4 and then off onto quiet Berkshire lanes until we arrived at The Royal Oak. It always seemed to me that we were heading into the back of beyond, which I suppose it was really, back in those days before universal car usage.
It was our Sunday adventure, and there was the prospect of gold at the end in the form of Enid's famous sandwiches and cakes.
After travelling through quiet leafy lanes you came upon a quaint and unsupposing roadside pub. Brick finished and painted. The sort of place one chances upon and then is gone in a flurry of road dust and disappearences in rear view mirrors. I think the place had been furnishing travellers and locals with succour and vittals for a long time. It had the feel of a building well-set into place. A permanent bolt-hole from everyday life.
As there is no official history of the building I will have to furnish details from a stretched memory.
My cousin Alan could easily fill it in, but I haven't seen him since the last century.
Filling in bits of pure supposition I would say that the building itself in parts could well have been 16th or 17th century - possibly even earlier *.
How can I say this?
Well it has all to do with the floors, as there wasn't a straight one in the central core of the building. This was especially so upstairs where you could comfortably walk uphill and down dale. The stairs were the tightest I have ever seen and there was a small window with a deep window ledge halfway up on the turn. I really do wonder how Joe and Enid ever managed to get anything up those stairs, but then again maybe age is making my impressions narrower too.
The place felt old and lived-in in that central part; no doubt my impressions from this far down the line are aided and abetted by my Uncle Joe's love of buying of antiques. Real ones. The sort that people after the war thought almost worthless.
Boy did he get some bargains.
Breastplates from Waterloo.
Dutch and Chinese and Japanese porcelain.
Chinese, Japanese and European weaponry, and my favourite thing:
The Guardian Of The Stairs.
This was a bronze Chinese Dragon of very obvious antiquity. Even now I can tell it was an incredible quality item; it exuded craftsmanship and artistry. It used to sit on the window ledge halfway up and you had to get past his ever watchful eye to go up there. It watched you as you started up the lower, pre-turn flight, and it watched you on the turn and then it watched you as you headed up the apr├Ęs-turn flight.
This powerful memory of it, no doubt runs in with my love of The Hobbit (coming in ruination to a cinema near you soon . . .) which I first read at the age of 11. Bilbo's meeting with Smaug always struck me as the most daring and wonderful thing. The Guardian Of The Stairs was my Far East Smaug and I dearly would have loved to have owned it. In fact I would still love to own it. I wonder where he is now?
But this is getting away from the pub.
Sometimes back in its past the building had been added to . . quite considerably.
The original central part of the building had been extended and broadened in all directions away from the road. There were extensive outbuildings, a modern kitchen extension and a long garden where I remember playing on hot Sunday afternoons. There was no cellar as such, but a cool room off to the side of the courtyard. This would further make me think it had been a pub for a long time as such establishments started as roadside places of rest, where local men and women brewed something considerably more palatable than water. Early pubs were often little more than houses which happened to serve home-made ale to passer's by.
There was also a small stream which ran alongside the garden, and, being a proto-fisherman (encouraged by Joe) I learned to 'read' water and recognise the minutiae of river life.
This was very important to me as I would later go on to know my small section of the River Annan in intimate detail.
It's funny but checking modern maps the 'stream' no longer appears to be there, unless it has been culverted. Certainly there is a larger small river nearby called The Cut. But I am wondering how my memory can be so wrong? Well thinking about it clearly, I reckon it was probably little more than a ditch (albeit a clear running decent sized one) doing its work. Maybe I am wrong, but looking at the mapping, that seems to be the case.
You could lose yourself quite comfortably in those grounds, but especially in the sheds.
These were where Joe stored mixers, old oak barrels, ancient soda syphons, all the necessary workings for the pub were in this collection of converted stables.
They were accessed by a locked gate from the car park, and I could and did spend huge amounts of Sunday afternoons exploring them. Swifts and Housemartins and Swallows; Cocoons and Silk and Spiders; old mortar and scratched names in brick; but the one abiding thing, suffusing the air like Jasmine on a warm breeze, was the smell of hops and oak and sherry; of a strong aroma of stale tobacco and old beer.
The smell of crates and barrels and pub life.
It wended its way into my bones.
You can still smell it pretty much at any pub, despite the aluminium barrels and sanitisation.
It'll waft up to you from cellar doors and is a smell (to me) of homliness and comfort.
The sheds were like a bazaar of wonders to me. Names of wonderful things like Courage and Schweppes and Canadian Dry Ginger and American Cream Soda. It was heaven.
Imagine as a sweet-toothed small boy being confronted with head-high crates of Ginger Beer and R.Whites Lemonade; of Cresta and Coca-Cola. Nirvana!
If I was lucky, Joe would let me have something fizzy (latterly a Strawberry Cresta - it's Frothy Man) and I would wander into the bar (remember Sunday's in England, pubs closed after the lunchtime sessions and before the evening, much to Joe's chagrin - he would have loved a day of rest) and play darts, and sit on the bar stools and pretend to be ordering beer. It was wonderful and for that brief period of time was almost everything in the world.
Those are my memories of The Royal Oak - a proper pub: the bread and butter of the field hand; the working man's repose; the traveller's rest.

Christmas Day 1973.
Joe and Enid are on the left. My brother is the very tall one at the back and my Dad is to my right.
Taken on the family Instamatic, on daylight film, hence the overly orange-ish cast.
I have deliberately not retouched the hairy slide mount edge at the left side.

It is funny how times change isn't it.
Something that was once a solid part of a community and a popular stop-off point for those mad days of motor-rallies through the lanes of Berkshire, can become an enormously popular, celebrity bolt-hole eatery.
Michelin-approved (more of this in a later FB . . oh yes readers . . I've done that too!); A Rosette winning, food critic lauded 'Gastro-Pub' (in the true sense of the word) with directions of how to get there by helicopter!
This isn't an uncommon thing, as was pointed out to me recently by my friend The Bard Of Kernow.
Country pubs, once the staple of the working man, and the traveller's delight, have (quietly and smoothly and efficiently) been transformed into (no doubt nice) places where money and status count. Places where locals are asked if they wouldn't mind dressing up a little before entering the bar area, or if they don't are asked nicely if they wouldn't mind shutting the door quietly behind them on their way out.
The Royal Oak, plain and simple, once a Courage pub, is now:

'The Royal Oak, Paley Street' **

and is owned by none other than Sir Michael Parkinson and his son.
Yes, Parky.
I nearly choked on my Cresta when I read that.
Chris Evans can be seen cavorting on their publicity photos. It has directions on how to get there by helicopter or light aircraft. You can land in the field behind the pub if so inclined.
It is so utterly changed from what I remember that I sort of feel like part of my childhood has had a complementary upgrade to first class.
The bar, my bar, suffused with tar and beer and genial conversation; the sound of the bandit paying out, and crown corks being loosed, is gone. The low ceiling and plain walls have been cut out to expose beams (whether they are original or not I do not know, but given my suppositions about the age of the building, they could well be).
The bar area now appears to contain the largest wine rack known to man. Photos of Parky's interviewees now hang where Joe's antique brasses and prints hung.
I would wager a years wages they no longer have a dart board.
Outside, looking at the aerial mapping, it looks like the sheds have gone to be replaced by either a herb garden or outside eating area - I know not which.
Joe's wonderful long garden with a small and productive orchard at the end is now a car park.
The menu (which looks really wonderful by the way) features phrases like:
"Line Caught" 
"New Season". 
The countryman's favourite cheap dish has been transformed into:

"Rabbit, Bacon and Wild Mushroom Pie with Mash Potato £22.00".

It even has its own Sommelier who states:

"My passion is to explain and help people appreciate what is put in front of them be it a house Sauvignon Blanc or a Puligny Montrachet.  This I try to do with simplicity so that I don’t sound like a wine snob!"

I wonder if I asked him nicely if he would furnish me with a glass of chilled 1974 Vintage Strawberry Cresta.
I know it sounds like I am belittling the place, but I really am not. ***
I am chuffed as a very chuffed person that my Uncle and Aunt's pub is still a vital building, and is still a beacon of warmth and homliness, albeit at a price. 
I can't help feeling the ghosts of Joe and Enid are still there, with their arms round each other. Joe with a fag and whisky in the same hand, Enid with a sherry in hers, ever the genial hosts; ever the erudite landlord and landlady.
They'd be shocked at how posh their humble establishment has become though . . .
I'll leave my last words on the matter down to my Aunty Madge, the fifth eldest of the Roger's clan. 
When she and her husband Jack arrived from Gainsborough to stay with us (when Jack retired) we took them to see Joe and Enid.
This was the first time they'd been to The Royal Oak, as Jack's job as Station Master at Gainsborough Station hadn't really allowed them the time. They were home-birds too, so travelling wasn't something they usually did.
Anyway, Madge came into the pub, looked around her, clasped Joe in her arms and said in her best Lincolnshire accent:

"Ee Joe, ent it lovely."

And she was right.
It was.

God bless and thanks for reading.
The observant amongst you will see there has been little photography this week. 
Sometimes you need a break.

* After doing some extensive trawling it turns out to be 17th Century. All my fears have proved true about the sheds - now an out of doors eating area, and Joe and Enid's wonderful upper floor with tight turns and floors like a day in the hills, has been turned into an upstairs eating area.
It is fortunate that I am here with the memory of former times eh.

** As if it needs that distinction . . of course it is on Paley Street. That is its address.

*** If anyone from the Royal Oak chances upon this and would like to furnish my wife and I with a nice lunch or a la carte meal on the house, I can tell you even more. Of course we could do with a helicopter to get there too . . it's a hell of a long way from Sheephouseshire