Art in August #29 – Wonderful Warwick

The Fabulous Georgians

The Fabulous Georgians

We had an amazing day at Warwick Castle yesterday. It’s the first time any of us have been and we didn’t really know what to expect.

The Horrible Histories added so much flavour – the actors were superbly in character it felt like being in a permanent play.

We managed to squeeze in the opening of the portcullis, the sword in the stone play, the trebuchet and the jousting. Unfortunately torrential rain drove us away before the eagles, and we didn’t even get to walk around the castle grounds, but that just gives us plenty to look forward to next year!

I decided to take my ‘big’ camera – my Canon 40D – which I rarely use these days, since the £200 repair bill last time my son went near it. I’ve forgotten how squinty-eyed it makes me, how much I want to photograph everything I see, and how hard it is to capture the perfect picture.

Jousting Dark Knight

Jousting Dark Knight

I left it in automatic mode most of the time, because my attention was on the children rather than light and aperture settings. For the jousting I hoped that would mean at least some half-decent pictures. Unfortunately I hadn’t taken into consideration the rope bisecting my view. Pretty much every picture has a rope in perfect clarity, with blurry jousting knights behind… Sigh. I’d have been better off using the iPad, or just enjoying the spectacle.

Never mind, I managed to get one or two nice shots (out of 156!) and next time I’ll know to sit where the rope isn’t in my way, or leave the camera at home and enjoy the day! 🙂

I feel like we’ve finally had our summer holiday, now we’ve made it to Sea Life and Warwick Castle. Doing both trips within a few days has taken its toll though (or I was stressed about going and now I’m fine) because I slept for twelve hours when we got home. After a couple of nights of only getting two or three hours’ sleep, it seems incredible.

Thank you to hubbie for taking care of the dog, the kids and himself, while I slept almost non-stop from 6pm to 6am!

Photographs: 2013 365 Challenge #144

Dad and his first garage

Dad and his first garage

I went up in the loft recently, searching for pictures of my sister doing gymnastics (for this post) and I came across an album, almost forgotten, of the end of my time in New Zealand. I was going to put the album back when I decided to take a few snaps with the iPad and post the pictures to Facebook in case they were ones my friends hadn’t seen for a while.

I love photographs. I take thousands. I love the digital age where there is no limit to how many we can take. However there is a downside. It’s unlikely I’ll ever stumble across an album of fifty snaps that tell a story in the same way as the one I found today. Now they’re all on the computer and there aren’t fifty, there are five thousand at least. Plus they’re all muddled so I can never find the one I want.

My Grandma, Dad and Uncles

My Grandma, Dad and Uncles

One day, in the not too distant future, the hard drive will degrade and they’ll be gone forever. What will my children flick through, when I’m gone, and discover a life they don’t remember?

Photographs are so important to remind us of the truth of our past. I found pictures of me happy at school, me thin and brown, me doing crazy things like skydiving and canyoning. Pictures of friends whose names I’ve forgotten but were precious back then. Places I’ve forgotten, lives I’ve lived.

Occasionally I find photographs of the kids I don’t remember taking or that hubbie took. I find them by accident in a random folder. My precious memories. But there are too many to sort, too many to print, too many to choose from.

Grandma Muriel and Grandpa John

Grandma and Grandpa

When I travelled round NZ for three months I took about 10 rolls of film. Around 400 photographs in total. I chose each shot with care and wrote down where it was taken. They’re all labelled in an album and it’s one of my greatest treasures. Now the only way I can catalogue is by date taken and even that only works if the date on the camera was right.

I look at pictures of my grandma and grandpa, and my father when he was younger: all posed and beautiful and precious for their rarity. Maybe that was better than a million photos cataloguing my children’s every move. That said, I wouldn’t be without my various cameras for an instant. These early years of parenting are such a blur, I need the photos to be my memory. But maybe, just maybe, I should take slightly fewer of them.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire looked up at the hostel building and felt a sense of calm. No more cooking, no more sitting like a lemon in a tiny lounge, trying not to feel like the girl that time forgot.

The hostel spread out in front of her – a bespoke built red-brick building. It looked more like a Travelodge than the YHA buildings she had stayed in recently. I guess it lacks charm, but I bet it more than makes up for that in facilities. Even if it does look a bit like a rocket ship about to depart.

As she headed to her room, Claire’s mood continued to rise. A sense of newness permeated the building. Each bunk had a neatly folded sheet, pillow and duvet placed in the centre of the bed. Long-since used to making her bed before sleeping in it, Claire only saw the organisation and happy anonymity of it all. Just what I need to get back into the swing of my challenge, before Carl gets on my case.

Her phone rang. Oh bugger, I bet that’s Carl, summoned like an evil genie.

She put the handset to her ear, waiting to hear her boss’s angry tones down the line.

“Hi Claire, it’s Julia. Thought I ought to check in on your progress.”

Great. The evil genie has sent his handmaiden. I would have preferred the master, he’s easier to discomfort.

“Jules, hi, how are things in the shiny world of AJC?”

Claire could sense the teeth-gnashing that her use of ‘Jules’ had triggered. She also knew that Julia wouldn’t rise to the bait. Not immediately. She would have to try harder.

“I’ve just been having coffee with the head of Live Recordings at the BBC.” Or something like that. Bumbling idiot, but she doesn’t need to know the details. “Charming fellow. I met him in Lincoln Cathedral. You’ll read about it on the blog later. I assume you do keep up to date, so you can report back to Carl my every move?”

Not letting Julia speak was bound to be whipping her temper up to a fever-pitch. Claire wondered if she could keep up the endless prattle, but she was tired and wanted the conversation done with.

“That’s why I called.” Julia dropped her words into the gap like hot bricks. “Carl says there hasn’t been anything interesting on the blog for weeks. I’m sure there’s no excuse to be hiding behind a doctor’s note or a sick sister any longer. It’s time to start earning your wages instead of coasting around have a jolly.”

It was Claire’s turn to grind her teeth. She is trying to goad you. Do. Not. Rise to it. Or maybe she is just an insensitive cow. Either way, hold your tongue. Claire took a steadying breath and re-entered the fray.

“No worries, Jules. I’m in Sherwood Forest. There’s bound to be something here that will be suitable. Or you could save me the bother and whiz over one of your oh-so-helpful emails. Actually, yes, why don’t you do that, Jules? Then you can earn your wages.”

She hung up the phone, before the PA could retaliate, and leaned against the wall. Her heart beat double time, knowing there would be fallout from insulting Julia. A Director’s PA didn’t fetch and carry at the behest of a mere underling, particularly not one in the bad books as she seemed to be. When will this farce be done? Maybe it’s time I put an end to it. The Maldives would be lovely at this time of year. The thought didn’t make her soul sing as it usually did.

Claire looked round the utilitarian room, with matching bunks and plain blue carpet, and wondered when the idea of hot sandy beaches and sparkling blue sea had ceased to have a pull on her heart.


Kiddy Craft and Cheesy Poses: 2013 365 Challenge #49

Craft started with book making at 7,30am...

Craft started with book making at 7,30am…

It’s been a crafty sort of day. It started with sticking and glitter at 7,30am as the kids added photographs to their books. Then Daddy took them to Cambridge and on to Granddad’s for the afternoon so I was able to ‘glam up’ a bit and take some head-shot photographs to save me the cost of a photographer.

My remote switch and tripod are both broken so I had to make do with my mini tripod, a box and the ten-second timer. I’m rather red-cheeked in some of the pictures because it got a bit hot hopping down from a chair for each of the eighty or so shots I took.

It was fun doing photography again. I don’t get to use my big camera often as I’m either worried about it being broken again or it’s too bulky and obvious. The kids aren’t always happy to have their pictures taken and you can’t sneak up with a DSLR! I was rather chuffed with the results given the circumstances of my imprompt photoshoot. Well, until I shared the pictures with my friends…

Debate on Facebook has left me determined to leave photography to the professionals!

Debate on Facebook has left me determined to leave photography to the professionals!

I need a new head-shot for the page that shows on this blog, a new one for LinkedIn, and one to send to the Nene Valley Magazine to go with my article. I found it tough choosing because I am both model and photographer and I also prefer more formal pics of myself. So (foolishly it turns out) I decided to put what I thought were the best twelve on Facebook for my nearest and dearest to comment on.

Apparently in most of the shots I look either regal (!), superior (?) or just plain mean. In one or two I look like I’m shooting people with my laser eyes. Actually I can see that: I had to focus on where the lens was to make sure I was in shot and sometimes I focussed a bit hard. It does seem I might have to succumb and hire a professional portrait photographer as I clearly haven’t captured ‘me’ or taken a shot that is sufficiently warm and welcoming to help me build my social media platform.

Still, it was interesting to photograph something other than the children, even if it had to be me (I don’t like being in front of the camera much either. The ‘regal’ or ‘death stare’ looks are really discomfort.).

...and ended with craft at 5pm

…and ended with craft at 5pm

I’ve also had fun playing with the final images with our new copy of Adobe Photoshop, purchased for book cover design but useful for many things.

When I first left my job as a marketing manager to follow more creative pursuits I took a course in digital photography that concentrated on the amazing things that can be done with Adobe. It was the best career decision I ever made as it has come in useful for a multitude of things, from designing logos and book covers to winning photography competitions and making montages for friends. Unfortunately it can’t turn a meanie into a smiley person but you can’t have everything! 🙂

The day ended on a nice note with a lovely craft session with the kids, making sheep and lentil pictures and caterpillars followed by some colouring with Daddy at bedtime. If I’ve learned anything today it’s to never put something out in the world that I’m not ready to have criticised. I hope I get less upset by my first awful book review than I did by the comments from my friends on Facebook!


Clare woke to the sound of drums. The thudding noise filled every inch of space in the room around her. It was a few seconds before she associated the rapid rhythm with her own heartbeat. Slowly her senses fought the sound of the drumming. Her ears noted other noises: the rattle of water in old pipes, the swell of birdsong coming through the single-glass window. The pervasive odour of the room crept in her nostrils and reminded her of her location. Sticky eyes unglued and took in the dim glow of dawn seeping through the curtains. And still the drums pounded.

What the hell?

Claire tried to think what had forced her awake. The clatter of the pipes was loud but her earplugs were still half-in and she had become better at ignoring random noises in the night. The dawn light wasn’t bright enough to have dragged her out of sleep. Gradually the bass drum steadied into a regular beat and Claire was able to concentrate on her breathing.

She tried to recall her dreams, assuming they must have caused the thumping heartbeat and clammy sweat that she could feel freezing on her forehead in the chilly room. She grabbed at the images in her mind but they slipped away as if she had tried to catch a reflection and found only water. And still the sensations persisted. She wanted to crawl out of herself, to shed an itchy and hated skin.

The feeling of disquiet lingered like the bad smell still permeating the room. Claire plumped her pillow and fidgeted in the bed, trying to return to sleep. Every time she closed her eyes indefinable images swam in the dark and forced the lids open again.

What is going on? I didn’t have cheese for dinner. In fact I didn’t have dinner. No alcohol, no coffee. No reason for bad dreams.

Admitting defeat Claire rolled on her back and gazed at the underside of the top bunk, forcing herself to dredge the scattered emotions of her dream for meaning. She was conscious of fear and panic, as if she’d lost her phone or was late for a business meeting. No, worse than that. As if she’d lost her job.

Well, haven’t I?

Claire explored the thought to see if it was the cause of her unease. I haven’t lost my job, but maybe it is time to start looking for a new one, just in case. She rolled over onto her side, hoping the decision would calm her agitated brain and let her sleep. Still the jittering in her stomach continued. A bubbling sensation somewhere behind her belly button nagged at her. It felt like a scream building; a scream that would consume her if she let it free.

That’s enough now body. Get a grip. You are Claire Carleton, Melanie and Gerald’s daughter, Robert and Ruth’s sister. You don’t have nightmares or flights of fancy, they’re not allowed.

A word snagged at her mind as she gave herself a talking-to. Ruth. Suddenly a flood of images washed over her eyes. Ruth going to hospital, Ruth strapped to a white bed, Ruth watching terrified as a giant needle came towards her, her eyes wide and wild as she saw it approach.

Claire jerked upright, crashed her head against the top bunk and collapsed back to the mattress with a groan, tears stabbing her eyes.

My little sister. I’ve been such a cow. All I was concerned with was what she said about Michael, about how she envied me my perfect life. I should have been worried about her, facing this all alone, having to care for Sky and having no one care for her.

She rolled over and fumbled on the floor for her phone. 5.38am. It was too early to call. Claire tapped at the screen and wrote a text message, hoping it wouldn’t wake her sister but needing to connect.

 Hey sis. Hope everything goes okay today. Text or call to let me know you’re alright. Thinking of you.

Claire looked at the screen and felt the thudding resume in her chest. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t enough. She tapped at the screen again and typed out two more words before hitting send.

Love you.