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'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

Black and White

It’s always interesting how some of the strangest thoughts and ideas pop into our minds when we have a quiet mind. Yesterday, I started thinking about photography; I’m referring to ‘real photography’ involving non automatic cameras, 35mm film and chemical processing, which I have not thought about for many years.

Several weeks ago, I bought a camera that I had longed to buy in the late 1960s, when I was a teenager. It was a small, highly engineered camera for its day, as well as very expensive. Indeed, the late Queen Elizabeth owned a gold version. I certainly could not afford that, or indeed the standard model, until I discovered one on an Ebay auction many years later. I bid a fair price for it and, to my surprise several days later, I won!

The camera is beautiful, heavy, no plastic, well made and I am thrilled with it. Since it arrived, I have had great fun shooting a roll of black and white film in my town. Unlike photos taken with my iPhone, when I can press a button as many times as I wish, and later delete the photos if they are not to my liking. I had to carefully compose the shot, consider the speed of both the film and shutter, adjust the ‘f’ stop for exposure, as well as judge the distance. As there is no zoom lens, I had to walk closer to or further away from the subject to fit it into the camera frame; only then did I press the button. Knowing that I had only 36 exposures on the film made me very careful in selecting the subject, as well as care when composing the shot. How my brain ached afterwards!

When I had finished the roll of now quite expensive film, I posted it to a processing company and waited anxiously for the results. Ten days later, a package of prints and negatives finally arrived. I’d forgotten how exciting it was to receive and open the wallet of black and white prints, wondering if they looked alright, or whether I had made some terrible mistakes. I was fortunate, since all but two photos looked rather good, and I was particularly proud of four of them.

As I looked carefully at my efforts, I noticed that there seemed to be more depth and clarity within these photos than I remember in the colourful creations taken on my iPhone. There was more detail in the subject photographed, and I was not blinded by the effects of colour and the gadgetry that usually produced my photos.

As I reflected upon my achievements, I began to realise that I had once again been given another of life’s lessons. How often have I been blinded by gimmickry, pizazz and irrelevance in my life? How often do I move sufficiently close to look at the detail and context in what is in front of me? Do I ever consider moving further backwards to get a wider view and understanding? Am I blinded by an irrelevance of colour, gadgetry, and cleverness, rather than seeing the unvarnished truth in front of me?

I am not saying that life should be all black and white; it would be dull indeed without colour. Maybe the lesson that I have learned from my photographic experience is to look at the detail more closely, from different angles, and not to be tricked by seeing beauty at face value. It is easy to be seduced by the clever tricks that gadgets can perform for us, but maybe from time to time we just need to load our metaphorical cameras with a roll of black and white film to fully appreciate what we are seeing in our lives.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie, his blogs, podcasts and books, go to:

The Evils of Apple Bobbing – A Halloween Warning

At risk of sounding both a prude and a party pooper, Halloween is one of the annual rituals that I detest with a vengeance. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good party as much as the next person, but this tacky, heavily commercialised celebration of evil is, for me, a step too far. Also, I don’t think it is too unreasonable to refuse to answer the doorbell when ‘trick or treaters’ come calling after 10.00pm.

It wasn't always like this. When we first moved to Spain and the Canary Islands, Halloween was virtually unknown, with the main event being the following day, All Saints Day, when it was customary to visit the graves of dead relatives, with family members often picnicking in the cemetery. In some ways, it all seemed a little macabre to British sensitivities about death, but we all remember the departed in different ways and this was an example of the Spanish way of doing things at that time.

In the last ten years or so we have seen the American way of 'celebrating' Halloween, together with the expensive commercialism of an event that used to be little more than a hollowed-out pumpkin fitted with a candle; indeed, Halloween ‘trick or treats’ were never part of Spanish culture. It has moved from being a spooky night for the kids to enjoy to one where 'trick or treat' is seen as a serious and often threatening event for adults to enjoy as a preliminary to a nightmarish party at a local bar until the middle hours of the morning. Indulging in 'blood curdling’ cocktails whilst trying not to look too embarrassed in a ridiculous costume, I doubt that many of the departed are remembered much before mid-afternoon on All Saints Day, and that is if the headache allows. As for a cemetery picnic, let’s forget it.

Looking back to my career as teacher, I remember the excitement of Halloween when children made and drew witches, black cats, and cauldrons. They enjoyed making and chanting spells, writing spooky poems and stories, but that is usually as far as it went, although I do remember one painful exception.

As a newly appointed head teacher, I shall never forget one unfortunate Halloween when I was expected to attend an afternoon meeting at County Hall. Later that evening, I received an animated, irritable phone call from the Chair of Governors, who was the village vicar, advising me that he had received a very serious complaint about my management of the school. Bewildered by his opening criticisms, I asked for more details and was informed by this humourless and pompous man that a parent had called him to complain that staff were indulging in witchcraft and evil practices and that, as a church school, we should know better. I listened and assured my caller that I would give it my full attention the following day.

Chatting to staff over coffee at break time the following morning, it became clear that my infant teacher, a well-meaning but generally incompetent soul, had decided to let her class have a Halloween party in my absence. From what I could gather, this involved drawing, face painting and making witches’ hats, chanting spells and apple bobbing, which I was surprised to learn that all witches worthy of a black cat and broomstick were expected to indulge in from time to time. It wasn't on the curriculum planning for the week, and I suspect that it had all got a little out of hand. Despite this, my loyal and perceptive school secretary, who always took it upon herself to prowl around the school in my absence, assured me that nothing untoward had been going on, and that the children had enjoyed themselves, albeit noisily, but adding that the caretaker was not too happy when she arrived to clean the classroom.

Later that afternoon, I met the parents who had made the complaint. They appeared to be a decent young couple who had recently converted to become fundamental Baptists. As with most religions, it is often the newly converted who are the most extreme and they were clearly unhappy that the school entertained any kind of celebration of Halloween. We talked about the issue at some length and eventually the couple agreed that they had overreacted but would prefer that their son didn't indulge in the evils of apple bobbing ever again. I agreed to their terms, and in return the couple agreed to run a fundraising stall at the forthcoming Christmas Fair. As it turned out, this young couple became the most supportive and dedicated fundraisers of all the parents that I ever met. However, I was never able to face the idea of apple bobbing ever again.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

Join me on Facebook: @barrie.mahoney

To find out more about Barrie and his books, go to:

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