Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The eighties Lomo revival continues....

You wait thirty years for a Lomo LC-A and four come along at once!

A few weeks ago I blogged about my reacquaintance- after nearly thirty years - with the iconic 80’s Soviet 35mm compact film camera, The Lomo LC-A. I’d just bought a ‘spares or repair’ Lomo on eBay from Germany and was hoping that I had fixed the ‘sticky shutter’ which affects a lot of old Lomos.

I was unaware at the time that the main problem is poor battery connections. The battery terminals become dirty and corroded, hence the connection is poor and insufficient to ‘fire’ the shutter blades. Since then I’ve bought another FOUR Lomo LC-A’s; all spares and repairs and all but one with shutter problems. All have been fixed by simply cleaning the terminals, placing a small tablet of silver foil in the battery compartment which improves the connection and ensures the three small watch type batteries are a tight snug fit.

So far I’ve taken a couple of rolls of 200asa colour print film with the first two cameras and had them developed in Boots. Nothing fancy or professional in the development department! The first batch back had that typical Lomo look which first fired the excitement of those Austrian art students who rediscovered the camera and loved in low tech, lo-fi results.

Most prints had a strange but attractive blue tint and that typical ‘tunnel effect’ vignetting. Lacking the definition of a print taken by a decent SLR or Super Compact, the lomo images exist in another photographic dimension, and to compare a photograph taken on a Lomo with a shot taken on a high quality film SLR is like comparing a painting by Matisse with a Jack Vettriano.

I’m looking forward to picking up the images taken by the third camera tomorrow and receiving Lomo number five later this week in the expectancy that I can fix the shutter in the same simple way. Strangely enough, three of the cameras have been bought from photographic internet dealers and I’m surprised that they are not aware of this easy fix?
Obviously I don’t need five LC-A’s so I intend to keep a couple and re-sell the rest as good condition working cameras.

Mind you, I can see this becoming something of a ritual. Buying, fixing and reselling Lomos. I  don’t think I could retire early on the proceeds but it should fund further purchases of analogue cameras like the Canon, Olympus, Beirette and Lomo Auto Sampler 35mm cameras I have bought in the last week!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Clocaenog Forest Wind Farm: the killing fields

Amidst the devastation,a steel post marks the site of a turbine. One of 33 within the forest.

The excellent news that Swedish energy company Vattenfall had abandoned its controversial Nant Bach/ Mwndwl Eithin wind farm project because it’s profitability was called into question, was tempered by a visit this week to Clocaenog Forest, where German company RWE-recently revealed as the biggest air polluter in Europe- has been hard at work trashing the Welsh government owned forest. The 33 turbine wind farm and infrastructure being built in a forest that is one of Wales’ last redoubts of the rare native red squirrel, it is also a habitat for deer and a wide range of mammals who have thrived in the forest. It also threatens the habitat of birds of course, including increasingly threatened raptors like the sparrow hawk, and in the north of the forest, the home of the scarce black grouse is gradually being degraded.

Last time I entered the forest to walk up to its high point, the 1500’ peak of Craig Bron Bannog, I was stopped by one of the company goons and told I was trespassing on what ‘is effectively a building site’....A building site! This a forest which apart from its value as a wildlife habitat is also a place of escape and recreation for two legged mammals. A place to go walking, mountain biking, orienteering, X Country skiing in winter, horse riding etc or just a quiet place to escape the madding crowds when the need arises.

What was sad about last week’s visit was seeing those quiet sylvan places where secret paths tunneled through the trees- touching on ancient stone walls and lost hafods- were now obliterated within a landscape which appeared to have been visited by a violent hurricane. This was not the normal routine felling of trees for commercial reasons which would follow with the planting of new saplings. These vast scars which dotted the forest had been created to allow uninterrupted passage of air flow to the turbine blades. 

These areas would never be replanted as long as a 300’ steel power structure remained rooted in its swimming pool size plinth of concrete.

Given the life span of a wind turbine-normally 25 years- and given the fact that this energy form may well become obsolete in that time, I doubt very much that the private companies will go to the vast expense of deconstructing these large wind farms, including digging up and shipping out the hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete and taking up the access roads and tracks. It’s not going to happen is it! More likely the general public will have to pick up the tab after the energy companies have packed up a left with a nice little multi million pound bonus in their back pocket!

Picking my way over the debris to reach a cairn topped ridge which had a stunning outlook to the distant Arans, Arenigs and Berwyn mountain ranges, I saw for the first time the steel tubular markers which indicate where the individual turbines will be sited. You could not have picked a more highly visible site if you tried. Walkers tramping across the aforementioned uplands will,in future, look across to a vast panorama of pale power plants. Springing from the forest like arrows in a fallen stag.

As the writer Robert McFarlane commented on the ecological and visual rape of an upland environment by a wind farm...'It's like taking a Stanley knife to a painting by Constable'! 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ewan MacColl's 'The Joy of Living': The ultimate farewell song

And so Harold’s service closed with the officiator reading Ewan MacColl’s ‘The Joy of Living’. I had no idea that this classic farewell anthem was on the agenda but it came as no surprise. I had chosen it myself as the closing piece of music for my father’s funeral way back in 1997. At the time I thought it was a unique choice. I’d heard it on a Ewan MacColl anthology and thought it was truly a perfect piece of music to end a funeral, the song’s romantic theme dealing as it does, with the mountain lover saying goodbye to those people and places which had been so dear to them. My old man though wasn’t an outdoor person, although as merchant seaman who had gone through some hair raising adventures and catastrophes at sea, his survival from several death defying incidents around the world puts into perspective the true meaning of risk. Two weeks in an open boat in the north Atlantic in winter after your ship has been sunk by a U boat rather trumps leading a VS up Cloggy’s Great Slab!

But to get back to Ewan MacColl’s anthem. In recent times it appears that the Joy of Living has replaced 'Wild Mountain Thyme' and Fairport's 'Meet me on the ledge' as the outdoor lovers funeral song of choice. I’ve seen several references to it on outdoor and climbing forums and it seems like it’s momentum has been driven by word of mouth rather than through airplay. Indeed ‘Airplay’ and ‘Ewan McColl’ are not generally words you see together!

MacColl’s music was always shaped by his experiences growing up in pre and post war Salford. His Scottish parents had moved to Manchester to find work and their experiences growing up in the north during a time of depression and deprivation shaped his politics and music. A lifelong communist and trade unionist, he is often seen as a dour political troubadour. Composing angry songs directed at strike-breakers or evil bosses. Railing against ‘the system’ and advocating militant solutions to economic problems. Of course there are more than a few of these angry songs in the MacColl songwriting oeuvre, and though it’s true, he never lost his faith in ‘socialist revolution’ and retained a hatred of the political establishment, there is nevertheless, a great romanticism at the heart of his work.

Most people are familiar with his Salfordian anthem ‘Dirty Old Town’- I recently had the eponymous ‘gas works wall’ pointed out to me by the caretaker of the Salford Lads Club of Smiths fame-and the bright and breezy ‘Manchester Rambler’ strikes a optimistic note. However, with The Joy of Living’ MacColl enters the romantic stratosphere complimented by his equally beautiful ballad ‘The first time ever I saw your face’. Surreally covered and turned into a multi million selling world wide smash by US soul singer, Roberta Flack.Let's hope that Ewan MacColl's genius becomes more appreciated and the growing popularity of The Joy Of Living' leads to a wider interest in his music.

Farewell, you northern hills, you mountains all goodbye
Moorlands and stony ridges, crags and peaks, goodbye
Glyder Fach farewell, cold big Scafell, cloud-bearing Suilven
Sun-warmed rocks and the cold of Bleaklow's frozen sea
The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains
Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you're drunk on the joy of living.

Farewell to you, my love, my time is almost done
Lie in my arms once more until the darkness comes
You filled all my days, held the night at bay, dearest companion
Years pass by and they're gone with the speed of birds in flight
Our lives like the verse of a song heard in the mountains
Give me your hand and love and join your voice with mine
And we'll sing of the hurt and the pain and the joy of living

Farewell to you, my chicks, soon you must fly alone
Flesh of my flesh, my future life, bone of my bone
May your wings be strong may your days be long safe be your journey
Each of you bears inside of you the gift of love
May it bring you light and warmth and the pleasure of giving
Eagerly savour each new day and the taste of its mouth
Never lose sight of the thrill and the joy of living

Take me to some high place of heather, rock and ling
Scatter my dust and ashes, feed me to the wind
So that I may be part of all you see, the air you are breathing
I'll be part of the curlew's cry and the soaring hawk,
The blue milkwort and the sundew hung with diamonds
I'll be riding the gentle breeze as it blows through your hair
Reminding you how we shared in the joy of living

The Joy Of Living lyrics © THE BICYCLE MUSIC COMPANY

The Dorymates perform The joy of living 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Harold Drasdo....A long day's journey into night.

Harold in the 1950's on Eagle Crag, The Lake District.
Thought I'd mention on here the sad news that Harold Drasdo died in hospital in Bangor, North Wales a couple of days ago. Harold was a contemporary of Brown and Whillans although his north of England allegiance was to the legendary 'Bradford Lads'. Creator of many classic routes in England, Wales and Ireland, Harold was professionally an educationalist who for many years ran The Towers Outdoor Education Centre in Snowdonia. Author of the highly influential, 'Education in the Outdoor Centes', co-editor with Michael Tobias of the anthology 'The Mountain Spirit' and his acclaimed autobiography, 'The Ordinary Route'. Harold was a brilliant essayist and regular contributor to UK magazines like 'High' and UK club journals.

A true intellectual,well versed in the classics,politics and philosophy, he was never the less, at heart a working class northern climber who until the end enjoyed a fag and a couple of pints at his local pub each night!
Ironically, it was a fall outside his local last Friday which led to complications setting in and the end came unexpectedly and all too soon on Thursday morning.

I was fortunate to have become a close friend after our paths crossed twenty years ago, through our mutual interest in the climbing and art history surrounding the south Snowdonia mountain of Arenig Fawr.....I'll miss him.

A full appreciation and obituary will appear on Footless Crow in the near future.

" We turned our backs finally to the hills and began to chatter: setting about to make our minds easy. But behind us, fighting their slow wars, the forces of nature also shifted steadily on'

Menlove Edwards: CCJ 1937

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Across the mountain and into the dark valley.

When you get a phone call at 9 o clock in the morning from the wife of one of your old climbing partners, you just know it’s not a social call! Sure enough the news was like a kick in the stomach. ‘Big Dave’ had died of a heart attack at home a few days before. As he was just 65 and an enthusiastic hillwalker- since giving up climbing- he was as fit as you can be in your mid sixties.

It’s hard digesting news like that and it makes you realise how fragile your own existence is. 

I’d known Dave since the late 80’s when for five years until he went to work abroad in 94, he had been one of my regular climbing partners. Never a hot shot on the rock, like myself he had come to climbing from a hillwalking background and was content to remain the archetypal ‘VS Climber’. Mopping up the lower and middle grade classics in north Wales with the occasional trip to Scotland to engage in some winter climbing.

His mild, laid back character made him great company on and off the crag and in all the years I knew him, I never heard him raise his voice or bad mouth anyone-politicians aside! We were out every week, exploring every far flung crag in Snowdonia and as someone who usually took the lead when things got ‘interesting,’ I was glad to have the big feller, quietly paying out the rope as  I scrabbled about on some vegetated horror and shouted down my constant refrain..’ I thought I was off there!’.

There are too many climbs and experiences on the rock to highlight anything in particular although Dave does feature in a couple of articles. ‘One Step in the Past’ which was first published in Climber and republished on Footless Crow, and ‘Rainbow’s End’ which featured in the the CC guidebook Centenary journal.

Never a prodigious new router, he does to leave one unique first ascent for posterity. ‘Walking on Water’, a severe climb which traverses out over the cold dark waters of Llyn Hywel beneath Rhinog Fach, before climbing directly up the slab.

A few days before he died, Dave had been up Yr Wyddfa with his faithful hound, Jasper. I’m so glad he was active until the end and didn’t fade away in a nursing home. To borrow the closing lines of a David Craig poem....

This is the life-earth in the scalp, the nose, Gravel like nails driven between the toes, Blood on the knuckles, bird lime in the hair. Rain in the armpits, lichen everywhere. Better to tyauve like this than age in an armchair.

Dave Williams- 1950-2015