A year in the life of my camera: 400 and 500

Just continuing my photographic yearbook – shots 400 and 500. I wasn’t very active with my camera for the early months of January and February – the world is cold and still during those months and I did little other than work and walk. The snowdrops are always very significant to me – those first colours and signs that winter is on its way out. But it is so much more than that, and these snowdrops are too.

Photo 400

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Not a sign of spring for me any longer, but a symbol of young lives cut short in the dead of winter. Think Seamus Heaney is with me on that one.

Photo 500

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Then the floods began – four years and three floods. I do like the water on the fields though. Plus, the sound of a joyous Heston romping through the water is just one of life’s little treasured moments – even if I do have to clean him up afterwards.

It’s nice looking through all these photos from the year though – it all seems like such a long time ago and my memory is very bad; that’s why I love my camera.

A year in the life of my camera: 200 and 300

Yesterday, I realised I’d had my camera for a year, and I thought it would be nice to run through every 100 shots to see what my year in the life of a camera has looked like. I have no doubt I’ll be up to 6000 shots by the end of the day as I’m doing a doggie Christmas photoshoot this afternoon.

Shot 200

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A craft project that I haven’t yet finished. Shame on me. When I finish this pair of socks I’m knitting, I’m going to get back on and finish these hearts. I planned on sticking a back on them, stuffing them and making a chain of them for Christmas – you can see I went kind of Christmassy with the sequins. The denim was getting pretty hard to sew – think that was the problem. I quit so easily in the face of difficulty!

Shot 300

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If I’m not mistaken, this is the beginning of my 52 Mondays project in January. Amazing how much that landscape changes in a year. All the winter wheat is now in, as well as the rapeseed. It looked like this on Monday.

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Funny to think that by Christmas I’d taken only 300 photos – and then it took off like a rocket. To be fair, that is because I end up deleting about 75% of the dog shots I take. Dogs are not easy to photograph!

Also, though, winter is not pretty like the other seasons. Poor winter. I promise to take more shots of you this year!

52 Mondays #43

Yes, I know it isn’t Monday! I’m trying to catch up before it is too late!

52 Mondays43I love this time of year. It’s all about crisp mornings and warm fires, hot soup and days where you go from needing your winter thermals to feeling like you are being boiled alive by mid-afternoon. It’s like the year is giving you one last shot at being warm before the winter arrives. It is without compare my favourite season – when the clocks go back I have an extra hour in the morning and the day feels more relaxed.

I don’t mind the dark evenings – just an excuse to break out the knitting. I’m still on a pair of socks I started in about April. Oh well. The heel is turned and it’s all easy from here on in. I confess I need something other than socks though, for a little while. I’ve been getting busy on Ravelry trying to find things I want to knit next. I have been knitting a new scarf every year, which is something I’ll probably get round to later on – I am probably going to go back to knitting Carlos and Arne’s Christmas baubles as they are relatively quick and keep me from getting bored and putting them to one side.

It is a full year since I picked up my lovely Canon camera, my 40th birthday present from my family – and oh, how I have enjoyed it! Can you believe I have taken five thousand five hundred photos? I was going to post every 100th photo, but that still would be 55 photos! Perhaps I will do that over the next month? I’ll see! My camera goes everywhere with me and I am totally in love with it. I hope to be able to pick up a couple of second-hand lenses over the next year or so, so that I can get even better shots. Still, I love the way so many of these have turned out!

First shot

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The first I took was this shot, this time last year. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t start with a photo of my dogs. I suspect there are an awful lot of dog shots in here! Two more dogs later and I’ve still got similar photos to share.

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Except now there isn’t much room for me between all of the beasts. Oh well.

Shot 102

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A hundred photos later and it is the first frosts. This is the lake at La Côte du Boeuf in Verneuil. I’m guessing it was my magazine run, and it was obviously a frosty one! Last winter was so mild – I do wonder if this one will be horribly cold. I hope not.

I’m out in the garden today, then a couple of classes this evening. Still got a fairly sizeable translation project to finish off which I am enjoying immensely – love it when work is fun!

52 Mondays #42

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Well, I missed a week that I didn’t think I’d missed. Ho hum. It’s been busy as anything though things are settling down a little. The main busy-ness in my two-week hiatus has been the whopping Hope Association Booksale, which raised 20,433€ this year – another record-breaker. All the money is split between refuges and associations, helping animals in need across the region.

IMG_5285Verity, Jocelyn and I ran a stand for the Refuge de l’Angoumois, where we walk dogs. Well, I say we walk dogs. Jocelyn is apprentice-in-training to Nicky, the dog groomer, and I take photos. This is recently becoming videos – you’ll understand how far things have come when you know that most dogs had a face shot and a body shot on arrival and then not much else – the staff have more than enough to do besides trying to take appealing photos – and so often, the dogs are gone before a photo has made an impact.

Our stand was very busy – often busy enough to warrant needing three or four people talking to interested individuals. Fingers crossed, but two dogs have found a home off the back of the event, and hundreds of people now know there is a refuge when they didn’t before. I spent the week before printing off the prettiest pictures along with a bit of info about the dogs. Ralf earned over 100€ with his ‘Euro-A-Pet’ booth.

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He even found a girlfriend, bless him. He had a lovely time and met lots of doggies. He seems to get very upset if dogs don’t come over and say hello to him, and is fascinated by the little dogs and the kittens. Both Frank and Harry found a home (yes!) and I am very glad to have been able to find homes for all five kitties. To be surrounded by such a caring community makes all the difference – and so many people said that about the booksale – it’s the people who make the event magnificent.

Last week was a tough refuge week. Two dogs died – unusual I know – but one of them was Lou, the Leonberg cross. He was coming up to ten years old, so he was old for a big dog, but that is beside the point. He had been at the refuge for four years. Sadly, so few people want a big dogs.

LouLou had a stomach torsion on Thursday – something big dogs can be prone to – and even though it was operated on quickly, he didn’t make it. It’s beyond sad to me that such a handsome and marvellous dog can spend four years waiting for a home. He was gentle and sweet. I had lots of kisses from him this time last week when I was doing his video montage.

The other dog was a mistreatment case that had come in – the second from the same guy – and the dog died from secondary infections. That’s the second dog this year that has died at the refuge as a result of the actions of their previous owners. You really do get to see the best and the worst of people. Saturday wasn’t much better. Verity and I went to help out in the morning as they were short-staffed and I ended up transporting three kittens to the vet to be put to sleep – two suspected to have feline typhus. Between coryza, cat flu and typhus, many of the kittens this year have been finished off before they have even started life and it makes me really angry that people just let their cats breed with no forethought or care. Every litter takes a year off the life of the mother and it’s just another form of cruelty if you ask me. Fox and Bird, my two beautiful males, born with feline HIV; Clint, left to die with cat flu at less than four weeks old. It makes me so angry that people are so thoughtless – all for the sake of a few quid savings in not getting their cats sterilised. The people who drop these litters off at the refuge are little better. They wash their hands and it becomes someone else’s problem. They subject these kittens to a short, miserable and painful life, mitigated only somewhat by the fact they are cared for and looked after in their final days.

Today, I am taking video footage of six old-timers, dogs who have racked up an enormous amount of time between them for no good reason than they are big and they are male. Ufo, Wolf, Paulo, Nichmann and Artiste are up first. Then hopefully the three brothers, Usty, Tino and Edge. Hopefully it will help them find a home before it is too late for them to enjoy it.

Yesterday, I had my first day off in ages – lit a fire, went for a walk with the dogs and came back to a warm house and a lot of admin. Though it’s the holidays, I’m still running about 75% of my lessons, so I’m not being too hard on myself for not getting more done.

Time to get the cleaning started and get on with the day’s tasks I think!

52 Mondays #40

First grey week for a while and the first rain we’ve had for a while.

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That’s next year’s rape seed in the field on the left – coming on great guns.

It’s not just a problem to navigate the rain showers this week, but the hunters too. Thursdays and Sundays are the busy hunt days, so we go off up to the forest on those days where the paths are quiet and the hunts are more organised. Nobody goes off-lead if they can’t stay within 10 metres of me.

It’s been a busy Dames kind of a week this week. I ran a course on blogging on Monday (this is not my only blog, or even my most successful blog, but it is my favourite blog to write). Don’t feel cheated on, I beg you. Though it was wet and misty, it was still a fabulous morning. Village halls in rural France on a Monday morning might not strike you as the most vibrant and idea-packed kind of places, but ours was. I love sessions like that. We stopped for lunch at the local restaurant and I listened to other women describe perfectly the kind of life I lead too. We all moved over here to renovation projects (minor) and bigger gardens, to spend more time in the garden and a bit of time prettying up the decor, only to end up a few years later in a mad swirl of work and social lives and family life and every single one of us had put our potager plans for 2014 on hold this year.

I’ve also been writing a mini self-evaluation pack for the ladies (and myself of course!) and their businesses – and having done the time assessment this week, I am pretty sure where I need to make changes in 2015. I need to be more productive and less busy! Time for some serious rethinks and shake-ups. It really was a wake-up call. Perhaps now is the time to say that I started a pair of socks in March and I am STILL knitting them. That’s how busy my life has been. It has been a fury!

The self-evaluation pack sounds like a rigorous and frightening wake-up call, but it is pretty gentle and upbeat. I’m hoping it will be useful for lots of ladies in business out there. I’m pleased with it – though of course, typically, it is unfinished. That’s a tomorrow job. I need to find a more gentle name for it though. At the moment it sounds like the colonic irrigation of the business world.

Next week, I get to wear several hats all at once, because it is the enormous Hope Association booksale. A few of us are running a stand for the refuge we volunteer at. I’ve got 150+ dog posters to print out – so that’s my doggie weekend set out. I saw a cute photo of a dog in a kissing booth, so I’m going to rent out Amigo and Ralf for dog snogs. All proceeds to the refuge. I’m sincerely hoping the two little cats in my bathroom get to find a family – they sit looking out of the window all sad and forlorn. Life in a laundry is no fun. Sadly, with the dogs and the main road and the particularly cat-unfriendly wildlife round these parts, being an outdoor cat in my neighbourhood is a job with a short lifespan. They are cuties though. I just can’t spend any time with them, and that’s sad.

Hopefully, we’ll raise a bit more awareness of the refuge and maybe even find some dogs some homes! So many returns at the moment for absolutely pathetic reasons. Last week, someone brought a dog back because he digs. Honestly, if that’s a refundable situation, I need to take mine back. I’ve just decided their holes are where I should plant trees. I know it is impossible to live with a dog that just isn’t fitting in to your lifestyle though. I just wish people would be honest. There are teething problems you know you can cope with, and teething problems that deprive you of sleep and rest and safety. And there are homes for all dogs, I believe that.

I’ll also be touting the Hope Association calendars, which I was very happy to collate. I REALLY hope there aren’t any errors or spelling mistakes, though there are bound to be. It all ended up a bit of a rush on my behalf, but next year will be better. Sneak preview of the front cover for you all…

front pageAnd yes, those are my four at the bottom. I figure they’ve all been helped by HOPE to some degree. Tilly came to me via the Hope Association. Amigo and Ralf both came from Mornac SPA which is supported by Hope. Heston, well, he’s the most tenuous of links, but he is just so very handsome! I’ve put lots of the Hope volunteers adopted dogs on the inside pages, though. It was really nice to do – collecting all those photos of happy endings. So many people who work so very hard for the animals in their care as well. So many associations and refuges benefit from Hope’s support that it means the booksale weekend has become a lifeline. Such a mammoth organisational and voluntary task for so many people as well – I promise to give you photos – normally, I just get bogged down with books.

It’s also a Dame-tastic weekend as well, and I’ve got lunch planned with a few of the ladies up in Deux-Sèvres. Might as well multi-task whilst I can.

I’m pretty sure that by Tuesday the 21st, when it is the holidays and when I have my first day off in three weeks, I will be quite ready for a rest! I said earlier this week though, if I wanted to slow down, I could. It would be very easy not to do any of it. I just love each of my different lives here so very much indeed.

Have a lovely weekend, whatever you have got planned.

52 Mondays #39

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How can it be that the year is so full with photos? How quickly things change!

Last week was another epic busy one (when are they not??!) and I hurried from work to errands to dog walks. I got to spend a good Friday afternoon at the refuge and had forgotten the memory stick from my camera, so spent the afternoon walking dogs I know and love. Just waiting for someone to help me walk the big dogs. Much as I love the littlies, it is the bigguns who have my heart. Lots more dogs went off to Germany to be adopted from German refuges. The hounds which are so hard to find homes for here (even Breton spaniels, believe it or not!) quickly find homes in Germany. The oldies go too, and the ones who need medical treatments. I have to say, I know how they feel. I’d adopt a hound (beagle please) and an oldie or one who needs a bit of TLC. Those are my favourites too.

Sunday, I spent most of the day in the garden trying to prepare the garden for winter – mostly clearing suckers it has to be said. The fruit trees in my garden are not in great shape and they really could do with a big clear out and some better stock putting in. A job for half term I think.

Then we went for a long walk in the forest – it has to be said it is not easy walking four dogs in the forest when you are a single girl – usually at least two on a lead if not three. Amigo is generally trustworthy, but he has been known to trot off from time to time. Ralf knows many things, but his recall is z-e-r-o and although it would be no effort to catch him if he ran off, he’s better by my side. I love Ralf, but he isn’t blessed with brains. He is like a funny super-sized puppy. Heston doesn’t go off lead in the forest. He does come back when he runs off, but that walk is entirely on his own terms and it’s happy coincidence that he stays fairly near. Just far too many exciting things for a teenager to smell! He’s always on the 10m training lead so he can smell stuff, but he enjoys the stimulation of new stuff to see. After endless socialisation in La Rochefoucauld, he is now less barky when we are out in public. I don’t care that he’s barky if people park outside my house. My Heston is a super dog and he is so smart. I wish I could spend all day training him. I know he’d never get bored.

After a long summer of no forest (it’s too full of people who don’t have their dogs on a lead and don’t have good control of their dogs, sadly) it is nice to get back there. It’s definitely my home from home. On the days where the hunters are out in the fields and woods around me, it’s usually quiet and gun-free. There is a lot of deer and boar damage to the paths and woodland, so it seems it hasn’t just been a bumper kitty year. That mild winter has meant bumper litters for the foxes as well and there is so much fox spore around on our usual walks – rabbits too. Rabbits are Amigo’s thing. He spends his walks with his nose down holes and comes home with muddy chops.

Today, I’ve got a planning meeting for Les Dames de FER, the association I am part of, for local business owners of the female persuasion. Days like this make me miss the conviviality of office work and make me miss my Anne Pilling and remind me how much fun it is to work together. It must be said, I am surrounded by talented, vivacious, dedicated and enthusiastic souls and I very much enjoy their company. I have a feeling 2015 will be a wonderful year for Les Dames.

From 4pm, it is heads-down through to Sunday morning – and I’m hoping for sun and warmth to get outside once again.

52 Mondays #38

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Definitely feeling the autumnal winds this week, warm as it has been. It was so warm last Monday that I practically overheated. But it’s 21°C these days, and cooler at night, and the long nights are settling in.

Things are settling down into a bit of a more regular pattern at the moment. I’m still trying to fit new clients in here and there – and it is not easy. French schools finish so late that it doesn’t leave much room for changes and alterations. Plus, the autumn takes adjustment as well. The hunt season has started and now it is not just a question of finding a place to walk that keeps the dogs from boredom, but also finding a space that isn’t filled with men with guns. Luckily, when the hunters are hanging around the places we usually go, we can head off over to the forest, which tends to have organised hunts on particular days – days which usually balance with the other hunt days. I am not much one for early morning walks – too many lone guys out with their dogs and a shotgun – so it’s midday walks right now.

Still, it is a very busy time. I’ve got a couple of meetings planned with Les Dames de FER, the group of local ladies in business. We have a couple of training sessions planned that I’m leading, and it is also gearing up to the Hope Association book sale on the middle weekend of October. They all feel like very far away events but I know they are getting ever closer.

And it’s time to wind the garden down – so I’m still hacking back trees that have sent out spontaneous re-generations. I think the flooding had a lot to do with it. Three flooded seasons in five years is not good for these trees and the plums and the cherries are sending out their distress signals. I have managed to completely clear the bottom of the garden of plum offspring, but it does feel like a never-ending task. Thursday, I’ll start the cherry offspring and get a little closer to the house. It’s another of those things that you seem once in a while to get on top of, and then you head straight into the next year and realise it is all beginning over again. I feel very tired at the moment, in between huge bursts of energy, and often find myself wanting a willing clone who could help out a little. At the rate I work, I think four or five clones might be enough to make a really good job of all the things I’m trying so unsuccessfully to do.

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Making a difference

A while back, a lady with whom I have become good ‘virtual’ friends posted a story. It made such a difference to me on those days when I feel really sad or depressed that I can do so very little. This story spoke right to the heart of me, and I suspect it will with you too, if you have ever been the champion of the underdog, the fighter of lost causes, the one voice against the masses. And if you have been a champion, a fighter, a lone voice, it can be very easy to give up and to give in.

The story is called The Star Thrower, and it is the perfect antidote to feeling like you are little but a drop in the ocean. Written originally by an American anthropologist called Loren Eiseley, it has been adapted many times. I think every new teacher should have this story above their desk, and every doctor, every nurse, every volunteer, every police officer, every fire-fighter. If you are in the ‘helping’ industry, this story should be your mantra. It will uplift you when you need it, reaffirm your purpose every day, and remind you of why you have chosen the often difficult and depressing path that you have.

The Star Thrower

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

As it met the water, he said,

“It made a difference for that one.” “

*  *  *  *

I think it is very easy to lose sight of what you have achieved when there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish that need throwing back in the sea, but something crazy happens when you start doing it. The Star Thrower story isn’t finished if you ask me. If you ask me, the story is just the beginning. Because I bet the wise man understood that he could make a difference, even just a little one, and he probably spent the day helping the young man throw as many starfish to the sea.

I wish everyone would hold that in their heart and know that if we all made a difference – just a little one – every day, then soon, we’d be an army. And an army can make a very big difference indeed.

52 Mondays #37

Okay… two days late. Better than last time!

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It’s been a busy week already. One of those weeks where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. On Saturday, some fool decided to open my gates and let the dogs out. I caught up with that fool, who lied, and then confessed. Yes, she saw the dogs, yes she heard them. Yes she slid the latch back. Yes she opened the gate. Yes, she closed it behind the three dogs that got out. Really, I should have a sign on the gate. I guess the right thing to say would be ‘Attention aux chiens’ or ‘chiens en liberté’ but if you can’t see there are four dogs loose, then a sign like that isn’t going to make the blindest bit of difference. Maybe I need a no entry sign. In four years, only a handful of people have ever come through those gates on the sly – and it does seem a bit over the top to have a ‘Dogs on the Loose’ and a ‘No Entry’ sign, when really I should have a sign that says ‘Idiots: None today, thanks.’

Luckily, I caught up with Ralf five minutes down the road. The cows that got loose a few weeks ago moved more quickly. Just as I’d rallied the search parties, cancelled my appointments, managed to find paperwork for one dog but not the other, then found the other, Amigo came sneaking back in. Then I saw Mr Heston’s fine feathery tail rooting around Mr Richon’s bins. He managed to avoid being run over, by my manic gesturing to the speedy drivers.

On Sunday, the manager at the refuge sent out an alert about a cocker spaniel that was due to be put down. This little six-year-old female, Daphie, had done nothing wrong, just had been attacked by the owner’s other dog, and the owner had taken her to the vet to have her put down. The vet called Nanou, the directrice, and Nanou put out the alarm. The owner had, quite perversely in my opinion, decreed that the dog couldn’t go to the refuge, and if no home was found in 48 hours, she would have to be put down.

I spent Sunday morning sharing her story and then fielding calls from all over France saying they would take her in… it does restore your faith in humanity. I needed a bit of faith-in-humanity restoration after the arson attack at Manchester Dogs’ Home in which 60 dogs perished on Thursday. I felt quite empty on Thursday night, and only five hours’ hard labour at the refuge on Friday made up for it in any way. Dog kisses have a way of making things a bit better. Finding a home for that little cocker was the least I could do to set the balance right in the universe. On Monday, I went to pick her up and drop her with her new foster home (and hopefully an adoption will follow) – she is just delightful. She is a tiny little girl and the sweetest little thing – a real happy little dog.

But… on my way back from dropping off Daphie, my engine management light came on. Cue generalised panic and worry. Luckily, the very fab Honda Angouleme man fixed it in an afternoon – and I know business in France often takes a hit for being slow and difficult (hands up whoever has stood for an hour waiting for service in an otherwise empty shop?) but I have always found the mechanics to be really proud of what they do and to take real care in providing a reliable and economical service. Still, it wasn’t cheap, but at least no little orange light of engine doom.

The rest of the week has been gardening central. The weather has been just glorious – though storms tonight – and I’ve been adding to my compost heap. Pruning mad. The last of the fruit is ready to be brought in and I think it’ll be back to grape jelly for this year’s meagre harvest. August was too cool to be of much use, but dry as well. No idea what the big boys of Cognac will say about this year’s harvest, but if you ask me, it’ll be a poor one. Hazelnuts are finished. Walnuts are coming in. The seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago are going great guns and hopefully I’ll be able to overwinter them safely enough.

2014 is definitely on the turn. The dahlias are the only flowers still going strong. My aspens have decided the year is over and even the final apples are ready to go.

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As for the rest of the week, I’m hoping for good weather to make sure I can crack on with gardening before it’s too late to do anything useful. The dogs, as ever, are pretty useless at gardening.

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Yes, that’s a leaf on Tilly’s head. She doesn’t even care.

Anyway, I best get on with lesson planning for the morning!