2014 - HAPPY NEW YEAR (AND SOME PUPPY LOVE)
As you probably all know by now, this little chap was pushed under our garden gate in temperatures of -6c and left for dead just before Christmas.
He obviously has a fine pair of lungs as his agonised screaming was what alerted us to his presence.
The story has ended well for him as our lovely vet here in Bulgaria has, through a charity based here, agreed to get him re-homed in Germany. We will miss him of course as we’ve fallen hopelessly in love with him, but, being realistic it’s best for all concerned.
The whole episode has got me thinking.
I’m a photographer, and spend my time photographing things. From exotic sausages to fancy hotels all the way through to beautiful tourist destinations for world famous travel magazines. It’s very nice. I’m lucky enough to love what I do and enjoy my working life enormously.
Let’s face it though, it’s not exactly…important.
I know I’m sounding like an old hippy here, but the simple fact of saving this puppy’s life has made me realise that I don’t do much to help other people or to try and make the world a better place.
In short, I’m selfish.
I know that saving a cute little puppy is not the same as helping the difficult, poor family down the road who are annoying and slightly scary as well (and are quite possibly the people who shoved him under our gate in the first place) but by goodness, they could do with a bit of help…as could many others.
I’m not much of a believer in New Years Resoloutions - I’ve broken far too many of them down the years, but this year, inspired by Paxo the puppy (who will hopefully very soon be marching happily down a Strasse somewhere, munching on a bratwurst and cheering on Bayern Munich) I intend to do something. Something charitable that will do some good. Wish me luck, and keep me on my toes. I do not intend to break this one.
Love, peace, health and happiness to all of you in 2014…
and thanks Paxo.
THE SNOWY SUMAC TREES OF VELIKO TURNOVO
In a very unpreposessing part of town, in the middle of a rather ugly traffic island surrounded by concrete tower blocks I saw these beautiful trees.
I must have driven past them many times but the light dusting of snow made their tangled branches stand out.
Whilst photographing them I realised that they were sumac trees. The pungent, sour spice so prevalent in Turkish and Middle Eastern cookery.
So, a triple whammy.
I took these pictures, which cheered me up on a cold and snowy morning. I gathered a handful of the strangely delicious berries to cook with later, and caught a bit of natures beauty amidst the ugliness of modern life…
As winter approaches I have noticed a lot of this in the markets in Bulgaria. At first I mistook it for horseradish, which is also in abundance here, but it was explained to me the other day what it was.
I roasted it, with it’s leaves with good Greek olive oil and a sprinkling of the delicious Bulgarian seasoning ‘sharena sol’, which is composed mainly of summer savory.
It was…nice. Like a mixture of carrot, celeriac and parsnip and went well with the roast chicken I served it with.
Any foodie people out there got any more ideas?
HARRY ERNEST JUBILEE CLINCH
was my Grandfather.
He was born in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, which explains the rather strange name.
He was the only one of my grand-parents I knew, and, for all his working life, he was a gardner. A fiercely proud, working class man, he worked for Chichester council and later as head gardner in a couple of minor stately homes in West Sussex.
I say ‘gardner’ but, realistically, I should say ‘vegetable gardner’. He grew flowers, but grudgingly so, for the two aged aunts of my father’s that he lived his life out with (his own wife, my Grandmother had died when my Dad was 16). His pride and joy were his vegetables. He regularly won the prize for the ‘Biggest Vegetable Marrow’ or the ‘Longest Runner Bean’ at his local horticultural exhibition, and his certificates and medals were always on show on his mantlepiece, until they were surpassed by another award, when they would be moved to his favourite place in the whole world, the centre of his ‘kingdom’ and the place I loved more than anywhere else when I was a little boy.
It was in the middle of his pride and joy. The allotment.
It was a beautiful place. Neat and tidy and bursting with delicious veg. Row after row of carrots and onions, runner beans and peas climbing their way up perfect bamboo and twig wigwams and leeks and onions standing to attention like soldiers on parade. He always called me ‘Nipper’, and the strongest memory I have is of him sitting on an upturned bucket in the shed, lighting up one of the fierce ‘Capstan Full Strength’ cigarettes he smoked and pouring himself, from the rusty kettle steaming on the antiquated gas ring in the corner a ‘Wozza’.
Me and Grandad had a little ritual we’d go through. “Why do you call it a ‘wozza’ Grandad?” I’d say.
"Well Nipper" he’d reply in his Sussex burr " It WOZZA cup of tea before I put the whisky in it!" and winked at me conspiritorially as if it was a huge secret that we should keep from the Aunts, even though, it was common knowledge.
I don’t have many mementos of my Grandad left. His medals he got for being gassed, twice, in the dreadful battles of the Somme in the First World War, a battered old book he kept in his shed about vegetable gardening for fun and profit and, perhaps rather bizarrely, two of his old watering cans.
They are perfectly ordinary watering cans, nothing even remotely special, but I love having them. They take me back to the shed I suppose…to those innocent times and I love them.
The picture above is of Stoyan, who spent all day yesterday fixing the guttering on my house in Bulgaria. He is mending one of the watering cans which, over the years has got a bit battered.
Grandad died when I was ten, and apart from going across the channel to be shelled by the Germans, hardly set foot outside his beloved Sussex. He couldn’t point at Bulgaria on a map, and the thought of his grandson pottering around his garden there watering his flowers with one of his watering cans would simply never have entered his head.
By golly…it’s got me thinking though.
So cheers Grandad. I shall make myself a Wozza this evening in your memory!
ANDALUZ DETAIL #3
'La Fuente'…The fountain. Still the centrepoint of most villages in Andalucia.
Like this one in the beautiful village of Linares in the Sierra de Aracena.
ANDALUZ DETAIL #2
In the Sierra de Aracena, near Jabugo. A clear sign that you are in serious jamon country…
Or ‘Dirty Rice’. Cooked with mussels, prawns, squid and their ink. Lunch today at Finca Buenvino. Served with a very garlicky Alli-Olli.
Very, very nice…
AND LEST THERE BE ANY DOUBT
That I am, indeed, in the South. This is the view from my hotel window in Merida…
Ok, As you should all know by now, I love Spain and the Spanish with a passion. I’ve just spent a lovely time in Segovia…lovely people, beautiful city and my client (Not allowed to mention apparently…but a tip-top, world famous travel magazine…’go figure’ as they would say in the states) will be happy.
However, something was not quite right.
As I drove south and started to look for somewhere to stay I realised what it was.
I’d stopped at a gas station just outside of Merida and asked how long it would take me to drive to Seville. The answer made me realise what I’d been missing…
'Thi te va a do thienta, pue, una ora…'
'If you drive at 200kms per hour, it'll take you an hour'. i.e. Its 200kms fat boy…work it out for yourself.
But delivered with a massive smile and a voice that was the product of 40 cigarettes per day for the last 20 years.
The South. Merida is only just in the south, but it’s there. The accent, the roughness around the edges and the humour.
At last, I’m feeling at home…
SPAIN, SEGOVIA & SUCKLING PIGS
Just finished a very enjoyable 5 day shoot in Segovia. It’s an amazing city. The Aqueduct alone is one of the most beautiful things you could wish to see, and thats without the huge cathedral, the Alcazar (which Walt Disney based the castle in ‘Sleeping Beauty’ on), the ten or so Romanesque and Templar churches…the list goes on.
One thing troubles me. The food.
The region around Segovia is incredibly fertile and is reknowned for it’s vegetables, which are indeed of an unsurpassed quality. The star of Segovian cuisine, however, is cochinillo. Suckling pig. It is served everywhere, transported to the table on a large earthenware platter and chopped, ceremoniously, with a plate which is then smashed on the floor.
The chap above is Antonio Lopez, head chef at Meson Candido, the most famous restaurant in Segovia who alone serve more than ten thousand a year. TEN THOUSAND! Good grief.
A more friendly, charming and helpful man it would be difficult to meet, but, as I wandered endlessly around the city seeing tourists and locals ooh and aah as piggy after piggy was served up to them, all crispy and juicy. Seeing their little white bodies hanging in all the butchers shops, I started to feel uncomfortable. They’re babies. Tiny. It’s like eating a puppy. Imagine all those poor sows sitting in sheds somewhere producing litter after litter of piglets to satisfy the meat lusts of people who come from all corners of the world to eat them.
Did I try some? Yes, I kind of had to as I was working and kindly invited to eat there. Was it delicious? Well, it was quite nice, but not as amazing as some people say. Do I feel like a disgusting hypocrite? Yes, yes and yes again…
Tomorrow I’m off to Seville and thence to the Sierra de Aracena to do some food photography workshops. We’ll be close to Jabugo where the best ham in the world comes from. Will I eat some? Almost certainly, but at least it will have come from a grown-up.
Get me home…and bring me vegetables…
HAPPY…AND EXTREMELY FORTUNATE
I’ve been moving house…and moving country…and converting what, for the last eight years has been our holiday home, into a REAL home…and it’s been wonderful. I finally feel as if it’s all making sense, but, I also realise that I have not picked up a camera for about six weeks and been relying on my iPhone, and having fun, which is all fine, but…
I’m off on location next week to Spain for a travel magazine and just realised how excited I am, and what a lucky bugger for loving my job so much…
Meanwhile, here’s a picture from my bathroom window this morning.
We made it. It’s been a crazy few weeks, but finally beginning to feel like home.
I think it’s fair to say that normal service is now resumed!
A GOOD EGG
As the date for leaving this sceptered isle gallops ever closer, I find myself wanting to do as many things ‘English’ as I possibly can.
So yesterday found us at the Oakwood, Ockley & Forest Green Flower Show with my great friend and fine photographer Mr. Andrew Shaylor and his lovely family. A splendid (if too short) time was had shying at coconuts, trying to win cuddly toys for the girls, quaffing ale and admiring vintage tractors.
I will break the habits of a lifetime and mention another photographer’s work on my blog. Check out Andrew’s work here. Bugger it, he’s very good and, amongst many other things can genuinely be described as a ‘damn good egg’!