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Of shimmering ice and coral caves

20 Jul

One of the deepest and most unexpected joys of parenthood has been reading aloud.  I’ve always loved books, so was looking forward to sharing them with my future children, but I’d never considered how wonderful it would be to say beautiful words out loud with a small, warm, child curled on my lap.  We’ve shared old favourites like Eloise, Ferdinand and Ballet Shoes, and I’ve discovered new favourites like the Gruffalo.  I think it would be fair to say that I worship Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.  Her words and his pictures combine to make some of the most gorgeous books I have ever read, and I have read a lot. Continue reading

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It’s never obvious

11 Jul

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On our first afternoon in Tokyo, I remember being quite disappointed.  It all seemed rather, well, normal.  I was expecting Japan to be different.  But the closer we looked, the more different things became, and there were very many times we had to ask for sign language explanations of what we were seeing.  Some things simply remained mysterious.

One of the things I liked most about Japan was the order in everything.  Shop displays, gardens, railway stations, even forests, were incredibly neat and tidy and laid out with minute attention to detail.  The repetitive rhythms made for interesting photos.

So can you guess what the photos are of?  To make it more interesting, I’m going to give a prize to the first person who gets them all right.  Yes, you heard me, a prize.  I haven’t decided what yet.  Maybe a packet of wotsits.  So get guessing.

This post is for the Gallery who’s prompt this week is ‘Can you see what it is yet?

Creatures

21 Jun

copyright Victoria Wallop

This photo was taken at the Suffolk Show last year.  A small human creature eyeballing a large bovine one.

This post is for The Gallery at Sticky Fingers.  The prompt this week was ‘creatures’.

Motherhood

12 Jun

It was the fireplace that sold the house to me, before we’d even looked around. It’s a very lovely fireplace, original to the house, with eye-popping cobalt blue tiles. We have them in the kitchen and our bedroom too, with cream tiles, but I digress. What was I planning to write about? Oh yes, I’d like to tell you a little story…

I wake up at about 5pm after a much needed nap and as I move, I feel a small pop inside me, like a bubble bursting. I’m pretty sure I know what it is, but I decide to ignore it and go downstairs.

My two children are being given tea by the assistant at our local nursery school, who started helping me out a couple of days ago. At nine months pregnant, with a four year old and 22 month old, I’m finding it increasingly hard to get through the heat-wavey days. She’s supposed to leave once she’s got their tea ready but I ask if she’d mind staying on to help me get them to bed.

With two people, one of them an energetic 20 year old, it’s an easy job and by 7pm all is quiet. So I called the midwife. I’m pretty sure my waters have broken, I say. Any contractions? No, not yet. Well I’ll be over later, call me again if you need me.

Steve gets home. My waters have broken. Have you called your mother? There’s plenty of time for that. Remember last time? It took two days before I went into labour. Still, you should call your mother.

At 9pm the midwife comes. Still no contractions? No, just the odd twinge. But you do remember that I have fast labours don’t you? And I would like gas and air please. Yes, it says so on your notes, but it could be hours yet. Have a bath, relax. Call me again when you need me.

10pm contractions start. Not too bad, every five minutes. Must be very early stages of labour. Not nearly as bad as with middle child. That was every minute for two hours. One continuous wave of pain. Completely excruciating. I’ll call the midwife in a bit.

10.30. Speak to the midwife on the phone. I think I’m in labour now, I say between contractions. Well you sound like you’re doing just fine. Call me later when you want gas and air.

I want gas and air, I should have said. I’m a calm person, don’t make much of a fuss about things. I’m good in a crisis. I WANT GAS AND AIR. Why didn’t I say something? How soon can I call her back?

11pm. Steve, call the midwife, tell her I want gas and air. She’s on her way, has to go to the hospital first to pick up the canister.

This is my third baby. First one had to be sucked out with a ventouse. Second one, slithered out like a skinny, slippery eel after three pushes in three minutes. I’m pretty sure this one is on his way. I don’t want to panic Steve, so I won’t tell him. Steve, will you please call the midwife and tell her to hurry up.

It doesn’t occur to me that he would leave the room. That I’m making too much noise for him to make a phonecall. I’m not really thinking about him anyway. I’m just getting on with it. Only thinking about one thing.

I can hear him yelling, Oh my God I can see a head! The phone clatters to the floor as he leaps forward and catches the baby, who lets out a loud wail, right on cue.

Ten minutes later, the midwife arrives. She checks us over, tidies up, puts us to bed. Where I lie awake all night, unable to process the thousands of thoughts whizzing around my head like supercharged mosquitos. Thank God I never have to do that again. That’s me done, I am complete. Isn’t the human body amazing? Aren’t I amazing?

And the fireplace? Turns out the mantlepiece is just the right height to lean against when having a contraction.

PS If you look at the photos on the mantlepiece, the two in black and white frames are of Dickon and the midwife, about half an hour after his birth.

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I’m entering this post in the Victoria Plumb #GreatBritishHome competition. If you’d like to take part in their quiz to find out your celebrity style, click here, I’m Joey Essex apparently…

Friendship

23 May

I don’t have many friends.  Not the kind that make you feel cleverer, wittier, nicer, just for being in their presence.  The kind of friends you really worry about when things aren’t going well for them.  The kind of friends that make you glad to be alive.  The kind of friends you’d like to run away with to live in a hippy commune.  Maybe that last one’s just me.  But I have enough.  A small handful that I’ve gathered over the years and held on to with a firm grasp.  Very occasionally I make a new friend and it’s a little bit like falling in love.

So why a photo of my children?  Well, I’m lucky enough to count my brother as one of my best friends.  And I would feel that I had done the best job I could, if my children grow up to love each other in this way.  So far, the signs are looking good.  They are already partners in crime.  They stick up for each other if one of them is in trouble.  They wrestle like puppies for what feels like hours on end.  They cuddle in bed reading stories together.  They spend hours rehearsing plays with numerous costume changes and not much in the way of plot.  They are beginning to understand that you can still love someone even if you don’t always like them.

I’m hoping that a happy by-product of taking them travelling will be a further cementing of their friendship.  I have no doubt that it will not all be skipping and laughter, they are normal children after all.  But nine months of each other’s company without the usual distractions of toys, school and softplay birthday parties will give them a new appreciation for each other.  Either that or they’ll never speak again.  I’m hanging out for the former.

This post was written for The Gallery.  This week’s prompt was ‘friendship’.

Self Portrait

18 May

I both love and hate this week’s Gallery prompt, Self Portrait.  I am the photographer in the family and never let anyone else play with my lovely Nikon.  I also hate having my photo taken for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me.  As a result, there are virtually no photos of me in existence after the age of about 14.  Even the wedding photo I chose to display in our house is a view of my back.  But I liked Tara’s reasons very much, and she is right, our children should have pictures of us.

I know this is supposed to be a self portrait, but I cheated.  The children took these pictures.  But here’s my reasoning: I grew them and gave birth to them, so they are part of me.  Therefore if they take my picture, it’s a self portrait.  I knew that philosophy degree would come in useful one day.  So here you are, six for the price of one…

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boys

12 May

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These little men were in my life for a short, blissful, week over ten years ago.  Their family owns a secluded cove on the smaller of the two Perhentian Islands, off Malaysia’s East coast.   We reached their home by squid boat, an overcrowded, possibly dangerous, wooden vessel that was used for fishing by night, and as a passenger ferry by day.   As we neared the cove, the boat’s captain radioed to the island and a small motor boat was launched to meet us.  We awkwardly climbed down from the large swaying vessel into the small one, causing violent rocking as we manoeuvred our huge bags, two small boys sitting in the bottom of the little boat, watching us with friendly smiles.

Those children never stopped smiling.  I didn’t hear them whine once.  I suppose it’s not that surprising, their home was as close to paradise on earth as it’s possible to get.  The white sand on the little beach met the dense, green, verdant  jungle, alive with the sounds of a thousand creatures.  We stayed in a small wooden hut on stilts in the thick of the jungle.  It was very basic, with no windows, but we fell asleep to the rhythmic cacophony of insects and woke each morning to the crashing of the sea on the rocks below us.

The boys had, in many ways, the kind of life I’d like for my children.  Each morning, they’d go by boat to the island’s only village, where they went to school.  Each afternoon, they’d come home and play on the beach.  They learnt English from the small number of tourists who came to stay and ate delicious, healthy curries and bananas, jackfruit, coconuts, picked from the trees.  Their father would bring them pet kittens, who’s sad demise at the hands of the giant iguanas who came out of the jungle in the rainy season, didn’t bother the children.  They swung in hammocks and swam in the sea.

I’ve no doubt their life wasn’t without it’s problems.  For secondary school their only option was boarding school on the mainland, an experience their older sister hated so much she only lasted a year.  And their little home was often at the mercy of the elements, they’d be trapped for days if the sea was too rough.  Walking to the village was only just possible, you had to carefully find your way through the tangle of tree roots and cut through the curtains of creepers with a machete.

But for all the problems, the family were very happy.  They’d chosen this life for themselves and their children rather a like Malaysian Tom and Barbara Good.  They were proud of their sparkling beach and the home they’d built there.  They could have had better jobs, more money, more security, if they lived on the mainland.  But instead they had chosen their own little corner of paradise.

The family still runs a guest house on the little beach, I checked in the latest Lonely Planet.  The boys must be teenagers by now, I wonder if they still smile all the time?

This post was written for The Gallery at Sticky Fingers and Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.  Both great photo blog roundups.

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I am inordinately proud to be a finalist in The MADs Best Blog for Family Fun category.  I would be therefore extremely pleased if you would consider voting for me.  Voting confers a number of benefits: a rosy glow of satisfaction to the voter; the winning of my undying love; and if you are very, very lucky, you might win the chance to stowaway in my backpack.  [Please see full terms and conditions.]