I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to try my hand at colour development this year. The results I’m sharing here are from a roll of Fuji Superia Velvia 800 I shot in March. It gifted to me by some friends for my birthday last year; not an easy to come by film – it was actually sourced from Japan. That alone should tell you I should have sent it to a lab, but I decided to develop it myself anyway. This was only my third go at developing colour film. Obvs decided to develop in the evening of a day where I’d had about 3hrs sleep the night before. I think I’ve been trying subconsciously, to squeeze as much art into the last 10 days as I can, knowing I have some stressful stuff coming up in my day job in the next few days, which will wipe me out as far as creative inspiration goes.
Anyway. I used the chemicals from my Tentenal C41 kit again for this one. Side note here for the self developing nerds, I’ve noticed the developer going dark already, and I only mixed this up about 2 months ago and have done only 2 films so far. Not great. Would be keen to know what C41 developers other people are using. This kit is supposed to be good for 10 rolls, but doubt the developer will last that long. Onto the actual development; I must have put too little blix in, because I ended up with a whole roll of only half – 3/4 exposed frames. If I had inverted the development tank to agitate the blix it might not have happened, but blix leaks out of my tank when I invert it, so used a stirrer instead. I did something wrong anyway. I could be annoyed with myself, given how promising some of the shots look, but I sort of love these shots anyway; they hint at something greater.
Despite the lack of sleep I ended up scanning the film the same night as well. I think scanning film when you’ve been awake for 21 hrs is the “you can’t just pause the game, mom” of film. A few sample shots below. Keen to know what you guys think.
An old work friend recently gifted me a couple of rolls of expired film, including two rolls of Ilford FP4+ (ISO125) that expired in 2008. I’ve only shot one roll of expired film to date; a roll of 20 year old Fuji Xperia 200 my dad sent me last year. It was pretty degraded, and the results were blah and unshareworthy. I was not won over. Can’t say I’ve had the best experience shooting Ilford films in the past either, but I’ve not shot FP4+ before and I’ve got the time and inclination to experiment, so….
Since I had two rolls, I sent one roll to one of my analog mates in Berlin, so we can each have a go and compare results. After a brief exchange on the topic, I decided to shoot my roll at ISO80, to compensate for potential degrading of the film. It was supposed to be sunny this weekend, so I thought it’d be fine to shoot it. In the end it was more cloudy and sunny, but I went ahead and shot it anyway.
I was going to develop it using Ilfosol 3 (which is the first developer I started out with last year); thought it’d be fitting to use Ilford’s own developer. I opened to bottle to find it had turned the colour of Coca Cola since I last used it a few months ago, meaning it was probably stone dead and useless. I didn’t want to take a chance and use it, so reached for my go to developer of choice these last months; Rodinal (@ 1+24 dilution, 7.5 min dev, 20°C), and my usual Ilford stop bath and fixer. I didn’t expect much, given the age of the film, but I got a few decent shots I think. Some were quite “soft” (but I like that), while I got quite good contrast on others. The light conditions were pretty varied with clouds blowing through.
It was slightly surreal walking around this area again, and seeing how much it’s changed from my last visit only a few months ago. Starting about 5- or 6-years ago, it’s been in a state of constant construction, with new builds spreading along the railway line, doubling back and encroaching upon itself again. Bulldozing whatever was before in its wake. It weirds me out, the speed of it. Like mushrooms appearing overnight. “Regeneration” is the hashtag of choice, used by marketing agents / property investors, who I always picture in my head as cartoon wolves greedily rubbing their paws together with dollar signs in their eyes. Gentrification is another. When I first moved to London and was getting to know the different neighbourhoods, an acquaintance who lived in the area at the time told me it is “a good place to get mugged/stabbed” (and he did, multiple times – get mugged, not stabbed). No one wants to be mugged or stabbed, but the transmorgification into a place where one rental agency describe the places they rent as follows: “Our apartments are co-designed with the likes of John Lewis & Partners, Hay and Samsung. You can enjoy roof terraces, landscaped gardens, cinema rooms, gyms in your building, flexible work from home and social spaces, and even a 24 hour concierge – all included in your rent.“, is unreal. You can’t help rub your eyes.
Having declared my ick for the weirdness of all this grey concrete, reaching up towards the grey sky, I have to confess I like looking at buildings mid-construction. I like to see them in their skeletal stage. Before all the walls and holes are plugged and plastered. Like dollhouses with temporary miniature hivis-wearing occupants, threading and layering and wiring away. Constructing what they will likely never occupy. And what I can’t afford to occupy either for that matter. Nor would I want to. Or can I ever imagine myself occupying this cardboard box homogeny with “on-site amenities”, where each window is overlooked by a hundred others. A lot of these buildings have balconies; you will never see people on them. You never do in London. Send me a picture of a balcony in London occupied by something other than a bike, plants or laundry. I challenge you. That’s an aside. The ever-growing, partially occupied, as yet unscuffed and unweathered high rises make for good subjects to photograph though. Lots of linear lines.
I watch construction workers file out of sites, some, two-by-two with heavy tool-filled tog bags between them. Scuffed, weathered. What a thing, to have hands in the actual construction of a building. That will stand in major city for many years. That will be occupied by people. Who will live their lives in it. Random thoughts these, floating through my daydreamer head, sitting on a bench listening to construction sounds. I’m rambling. I’m definitely rambling.
Starting last year, I’ve managed to develop 12 films black and white to date. With varying success – hah! I feel reasonably comfortable with the process now though, so thought I would finally venture into trying to develop colour film. A short note here; I prefer shooting colour, but everyone always tells me to shoot more black and white. I will give it to them that it is easier to shoot in monochrome when the weather/sky is consistently grey. It took me around 7 weeks to shoot this roll (vs film 12, which I shot in 2-3 hours), just seeking out colour-worthy scenes in this bleakest part of winter. Oof.
I ordered Tentenal’s Colortec C41 kit from Fotoimpex in Berlin; even with international postage, it was cheaper than what I saw it listed for anywhere in the UK. Go figure. I won’t go into what mission it was to get it from the courier, but I wasn’t in a hurry anyway, so no harm was done. The way the chemicals are supplied, makes it dead easy to mix 1L of developer, 1L of bleach fix (blix) and 1L of stabilizer. That is where it being “easy” stopped for me.
The actual development instructions supplied with the kit was pretty confusing to me, so I took the advice supplied here. I don’t have a sous vide/water bath, so I was struggling to think how I would bring my chemicals to the exact temperature (I went with the 30°C option), whilst having to constantly agitate the developing tank. Ended up feeling as clumsy as I used to in chemistry lab sessions. First, after carefully bringing the developer to the right temperature, I started pouring it into the tank, before pouring out the water I was using to soak the film. Only realised when the tank started running over, so had to empty the tank, and accept the developer I had poured into it was down the drain. Heated more developer, and then started the 8 minute development process, trying to agitate with one hand, and trying to bring blix up to temperature over a bowl of hot water with the other. My agitation method was very stop start, and with a mix of stirring and inverting; who knows how the process was affected. Blix leaked out of the tank when inverting it, so I settled for stirring. I think that step went okay. Blix stinks by the way. I then washed/rinsed the film for 6 minutes in running water (wasteful, I know), before doing 1 minute of agitation with stabilizer. The kit / blog I consulted does not recommend this, but since I often have problems with watermarks, I did one rinse with de-ionised water, and one with de-ionised water with a few drops of Ilfotol. The latter might have been a mistake, because I had massive problems with fluff/dust on the film while scanning. To an infuriating degree actually. The featured image at the header of this post, I probably scanned 20 times, before begrudgingly cropping it. It is one of my favourite shots of the last months, but I could not get a scan of it without spots of fluff/dust on it. If anyone has tips for me in this regard, let me know for sure.
The result are a bit of a mixed bag. I would blame the lack of sunlight, more than I would the fact I’ve not been able to go anywhere in the last 7 weeks. The right light can make the most mundane things glow up, and worth looking at. So it is not the lack of things to photograph. It is the lack of “look at what the light did” moments.
I should say, I’ve not used this kind of film before (Fuji Superia 400 Premium), so not sure what results to expect. There was a reddish tint to most shots. This might have been a result of my development process, but I managed to correct this with scanning software anyway. Again, if anyone knows, let me know. Not sure how I feel about doing colour development myself. I feel like it might be easier to drop it off and get the scans back in an hour from a high street place. I don’t know if I’d want to risk developing myself if I had treasured / potentially amazing shots on a roll. I might shoot a few cheap practice rolls, just around the neighbourhood to see if I get a hang of the method, and what the results look like. Standing in the kitchen for an hour noodling away with chemistry kit is better than looking at screens anyway. Some of the results from this first go:
Took this one on 02Jan, when I met my boss for the first time in 10 months. We walked from Edgware Road to Embankment across an eerily deserted Zone 1. You can see the reddish tint I mean in this shot:
Took this on my walk home from getting the Covid vaccine, using cranes in the sky to navigate by. Might be my favourite from the roll:
I sort of like these bare branch fringes / frames in winter shots:
This was early one morning, and there legit was a golden glow in the air:
Two guys asked me if I was lost when I stopped to take this. They didn’t see the 🙂 hiding in the shadows behind them:
Weird double/triple exposure. Figure on rollerskates in a dreamscape:
There’s no real reason to be up and awake at 8am on a Sunday. In winter. In the suburbs. In lockdown. Yet here I am. In other lives being lived, someone is already on their way to work. Or has long been at work. Someone is running. Someone is only just going to sleep after a long night. Sunday mornings (and 3am any day) are the quietest times around here. A light remains on in the 24/7 supermarket, but the trains are less frequent. And I’ve not yet begun to distract myself. I find it the best time to write.
Lockdown 3 continues – I’ve lost count of the number of weeks spent solo. Five, six, seven? This week the cold weather has penned us in more than we already are. The predicted day time temperatures were a neatly uniform 1°C across the week, but in reality it was far colder. The wind chill (“real feel”) was brutal; to me anyway. Multiple times I walked out into our yard, only to ‘nope out’ and come back inside. Felt weirdly physically energised this week, so felt doubly trapped being stuck indoors. Fretted and paced around, unable to sit still and focus on work. When I did make it out for short walks around the block or to the supermarket, the wind did its best to cut right through me. Rude. Yesterday I came home with red fingers, struggling to turn the key in the lock. I thought back to when I first moved here, and after having been out for an icy mid-March walk, had to have a friend unbutton and unzip my jeans to use the bathroom, because my hands were too cold to do so. The winter days of my youth were cold and crisp. Sunny and blue-skied. Nothing will ever feel as big and wide open as the blue skies and plains of Africa to me. Nothing can feel as far as being penned in from those big blue skies. Although, ironically, when I visit there now, I find a landscape of high walls and barbed wire. A landscape of people penned in. But that’s a story for another day. One of yearning for something, only to find it’s changed. Maybe that slots into this post actually….
I dipped back into a podcast this week that I haven’t listened to in a while; GABA, and happened upon a very short episode, with the host, Adam, simply reading these lines from The Two Towers by Tolkien:
“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”
I found it soothing, these words. It felt so apt for this time and for this week. When winter and lockdown frustration is at its most biting. To keep going. To get up early, and be presented with a new day. A thing yet untouched. Where anything may happen. And mostly nothing much has happened these last weeks and months. That is how it feels anyway. Still, the city moves. Many variations of life are still lived, including our own, however mundane and tiring they feel in the/at the moment. Eventually the cold will dissipate. Eventually spring will come. The vaccine roll out continues. We keep our distance, in order re-emerge into a world of interaction and closeness again. We hope. Why would we get up, if we didn’t hope or believe or want that? (They kept going, because they were holding on to something.)
I’m droning on, trying to “convince” myself, but this brings me finally to the image I share with this post. The original (which you can see in this post) was taken by me during Lockdown 2 last year; emerging from the Underground. The image was re-imagined by an artist friend. There is something unique about emerging at street-level from a place beneath the surface. In a foreign city, you don’t know what to expect. It takes a moment to get to grips with your surroundings. If I’m honest, this is still the case for me sometimes in a city I’ve lived more than 10 years. The oddest thing is to emerge into rain when it is dry down below. Or into snow. Or blinding sunlight. Into the midst of a fistfight. Into noise, or as I found in Lockdown 2, onto eerily deserted streets. Either way, in whatever city; you emerge from a regulated, gated, time-tabled world below, into a different scene. We’re all desperately looking forward to emerge back into “the world” again. To see people again. To return to those old familiar scenes. But I also think we will find a world slightly changed. Nothing really ever truly stands still in our absence. Vines and fringes and beards grow, pavements crack, new buildings cast new shadows on old streets. Once shiny coins become dull. Things that were once overlooked become newly interesting. Whatever has changed, some things remain. (I’m being massively sentimental here, but so what, man.) The same arms that hugged us before, will hug us again. Can’t wait for the warmth of that. And spring, yo.
Thought I’d continue the thread on scenes in suburbia I started last month. On Sunday last, I got my first shot of the Covid 19 vaccine. Bit of a historical moment that. In my excitement, I jumped on the wrong bus heading there. I was so engrossed in local high street scenes, that I only realised when I was already miles beyond where I was going. I’d been making mental notes of spots I wanted to return to and photograph. The sun made everything a frame. I disembarked at a random suburban stop, hailed an Uber, and just about made my slot. Afterwards, I stood for a while in the same spot outside the local community hall, trying to get my bearings. I decided to walk instead of taking the bus again. Used cranes in the sky to direct me as to which way home is; navigating by way of local building sites.
I ended up in park, as do most days these days. Stopped for a while at a spot where birds gather en masse to “shoot their shot” (or so I imagine). Or gossip. Or strategise. But it’s loud, and it makes you turn your gaze up. Hail the day, birds.
I felt fuzzy-headed during the week; a side effect from the vaccine, who knows. A walk to the park on Wednesday drained the blood from my face, and left me wanting my mom. Got home on autopilot somehow. Thursday, something similar. Felt like I was walking in a fever dream. The sun came out for a bit in the morning, and it had rained the night before, so there were mirror puddles everywhere. Reflecting bits of sky, trees, telephone wires. A low haze hung above the ground, like steam rising from the grass. One lone guy on the pump track. Not riding; just sitting on his bike, looking at his phone. Three different trains blasted past behind him in this scene. Some other guy in the foreground was shouting at his dog for no reason. I shielded my eyes from the slow-rising sun, like I wanted to shield my ears from his shouting.
Friday the fuzz started to clear, and yesterday I fell back into that observational way of the (street) photographer. The details came back into focus, and I listed them in my head as I walked to the park. Little kid in a window waving. Paint on a roof, peeling and fading. My own breath. Dripping water. An empty saucer. A rosebud. A salt bin. My pale skin. Mottled sky. Downhill slide. Bare branches. Empty school. Plane up above. Turtledoves. Squinting mom. Sullen son. Dutch-style house. Curve in the path. Mattress leaning against a tree. Dog off its leash running free. Cracked slate. Electrified gate. Apricot sweater. Turning weather. Bubbling brook. Abandoned book. A metal skip to put it all in.
I haven’t been shooting any film in the last few weeks. Lacking inspiration / motivation at the moment. But we had a rare snow day on Sunday, and I decided to go out and shoot a roll. I’m currently midway through a colour film on the Konica, and felt like shooting B+W, so dug out my dad’s old Chinon CP-7M. That one also had a half shot film in it, but it was an expired roll, and I didn’t have high expectations of it anyway, juding by the last expired roll I had developed. I might double expose it at some point. Think the last time I touched it was when I was shooting some mega sunset from my window back in November.
Anyway, decided to try a roll of Rollei RPX25. I shot one of these last summer and the results were pretty interesting. I developed it using Rodinal at 1+50 (11 min dev time; 30 secs inversion and then once every minute or so), and the usual Ilford stop bath and fixer. I probably need to make the stop bath fresh at some point, because the colour is starting to turn. I’ve been using deionised water in my final wash, with Ilfotol in the very final rinse. It seems to have done the trick to avoid water marks. No major scratches on this one that I could see, so I was pretty happy.
Yesterday was a snow day. The first proper snow day in years. Also the the first time in weeks I’ve shot some film. I’ve been feeling pretty uninspired lately. The light in January is also rubbish. On cloudy days, the sky is too bright grey. I’ve been digging around the archives a bit instead, and yesterday’s weather drew me back to this image I took on another snow day probably 10 years ago.
Maybe it was a reminder to myself at the time. Maybe it was a “notes to strangers” bit of art I was making. [I’m a big fan of this by the way. I am always reading notes on lamp posts.] Either way, it was more than likely a reference to deciding to move to London on my own. A city where I didn’t know anyone. With one suitcase, one job interview lined up, and a head full of dreams about bands I wanted to see. I don’t think I knew quite how tough it would be. That’s for the better, or I might not have done it.
And things have been tough sometimes over the years. But they have also been so damn great. There have been such high highs. I’ve always said that moving to London was one of the best things I ever did in my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am if I didn’t. I wouldn’t have the friends I did if I didn’t. Sure, I would’ve met other friends/people somewhere else, but I can’t fathom not having had the cool and meaningful interactions I’ve had with my current friends here. Your friends become pseudo family in a way, when you are far away from your own. So it’s been tough not seeing them in person much these last 10 months. I’m an introvert, so I’m generally pretty good with solo time. But I’m also a social creature, like most humans. And this prolonged social isolation / lack of physical interaction with other people might be my toughest stretch in London yet. It’s almost darkly humorous (is this the right phrase?) to say “you’re not alone in this”; so many other Londoners and people across the UK are in the same shitty boat.
My family all live in different countries in the southern hemisphere. The family group chat has been awash with pictures of summer holiday activities these last weeks. Pictures of them enjoying far greater freedoms than we do here at the moment. Camping, fishing, beach vibes, a new beach house even. The last one, the news of the beach house is the one that broke me a bit the other day. It wasn’t as much about the place itself, as realising I don’t know when I will see this place in person. Or see my family again. Not for many many months yet. The uncertainty of it is awful. And not seeing my “local family” (ie friends) doubles the awfulness.
In a conversation with my brother (12,000 miles away) the other day, I confessed that, for the first time since moving here, I’m thinking “What have you done? You’ve trapped yourself here.” I know it’s the poor handling of this pandemic by our government, and the continued flouting of social restrictions by people that have brought us here, but still. “It’s been 10 months of this, bro….” My sibs and I were raised in a way that have made us all pretty resilient. We keep going when things are hard, because that’s what we were taught to do. I don’t think I could’ve made a new life in London if I did know how to stick it out. But the resolve to stay strong wears thin, man.
In another conversation with a friend in Berlin, who lived in London for years, they suggested that we might think of time in London as investing in stock. For years we enjoyed high share prices, and suddenly the value of shares or being there has fallen. Suddenly times are hard. And we just have to ride it out. That’s probably the thing that keeps me going. Hoping that things will improve. Hoping to see people again. To hug and be hugged/held by them again. To enjoy good times again.
And what about the ongoing lockdown and London? In hard times I always come back to the last line of My City by George the Poet, “if you can take the rough with the smooth, then it’s on”. That’s true for life in general. No one said it would be easy.
January continues in the usual way; ashy, slate, dove, manta ray and other greys prevail. Clouding over moods and the sun alike. I don’t think I’ll ever get used this low ceiling feeling of winter cloud cover here. Somehow, I mind it less when it’s raining. Most days clouds just drift through blankly blanketing the sky. All monotone. No action. Rain gives them reason in my mind. And I don’t mind rain. I explained this to someone in a casual conversation about the weather last year. “when you’re from Africa, rain is a blessing; it’s scarce, and you long for it.” When you’re from Africa. You long for it.
I usually return to South Africa around Oct/Nov each year for a pre-winter sun and vitamin D sesh. A return to nature, and a chance to catch up with family, friends and nature scenes. Because of the ongoing pandemic, I wasn’t able to return last year as usual though, and the harsh realisation is setting in that I won’t be able to go there for a long time yet. I listen to parents and friends describe beach house and coastal scenes (it’s summer there right now), and the unknowingness of when I will see them and these places again, breaks me a little.
I hesitate to use the phrase “homesick” about a place that hasn’t been my home for more than a decade, but what other word is there for this longing to return to this place of origin?
A few months back, I listened to podcast in which the travel writer Daniel Scheffler, in exploring his South African roots, says the following of arriving back in South Africa after some time away: “there’s something about that scarlet bloody soil of South Africa, that stays in my being, I leave again and again, and somehow being born in South Africa means you always get tugged home. The umbilical chord is so taut. I know it when I get off the plane and I smell that air, that alters me every time, no matter where I’ve come from. It smells like the Bushveld everywhere; animal sweat, fecund. The clouds are extra enormous, and when the afternoon rolls in, just when you’re thinking of a lovely tea time, they do a dance of storms…..” He describes my own feelings of arriving back in this place of red dust and amazing thunderstorms. A place where I spent more time barefoot than wearing shoes.
What do you do when you miss a place so much, but can’t visit? When you’re a photographer, you go into the archives. I recently scanned in some old films from one of the landscapes in SA that I long to return to some time; the semi-desert Karoo. Specifically my step grandfather’s old sheep farm, which I haven’t been to since my late teens. I’ve never travelled anywhere that evokes the same feeling this place does. The film was quite degraded, and the camera I had as a teen wasn’t the best, but it is still cool to look at these shots, and feel nostalgic for these times. It would be amazing to go back there now with my current gear.
The Karoo landscape is predominately flat with sparse shrubbery and punctuated by the odd rocky hill (koppie) or more rarely larger flat topped “mountains”. Sometimes, quite unexpectedly, the landscape falls away to reveal ravines, as is the case on the farm. One of the ravines on the farm called “die valle” (the falls), had several large rocks with plant fossils embedded in it, and rocks with a corrugated surface that suggested the area had been under water/water had flowed there once. This just blew my little mind when I was young; to know this desert landscape was under water once. It was my favourite place on the farm. It was quite tricky climbing to the bottom of the ravine, but once there you were down there, it was pretty amazing. My bro and I would clamber around for hours looking for fossils. Or lie on our backs on large rock plates in the sun, looking at eagles circling in the blue sky above, listening to dassies in their rock hollows, make their weird little yelp noises.
The shot below shows the scale of it nicely. It is easy to see the layers of solidified sediment deposited over time.
Bit hard to see, because the scan isn’t great, but the rock has the wavy look of a riverbed.
In this place, as well as elsewhere in the veldt on the farm, I always had this eerie feeling of being watched. I’d look around and not see another thing alive, and yet would feel these eyes on me. Even knowing there were dassies hiding among the rocky outcrops all over the farm, it was still a strange feeling. That weird feeling of being alone, but not quite alone. Often in scifi books, there is a seemingly dead planet, with a different world hidden beneath the surface; Magrathea comes comes to mind. Maybe I was reading too much of that at the time. Bit weird, but that’s the vibe I got. Hah.
One of my other best memories was of driving down to a place called Koedoeskloof in the “Landy”. It was a rite of passage of sorts the first time you were allowed to drive down there; a pretty butt clenching affair travelling down the steep gravelly hairpin-bends of the kloof. If you were standing on the back, you would hold on with white knuckles. I always enjoyed standing on the back though, smelling the veldt and feeling the sun and wind. Once down the bottom of the kloof, we’d usually have a braai under the Karee trees next to the dam. Just a simple wire grill balanced on a few bricks. Food cooked this way in the veldt always seemed to taste much greater than food cooked at home.
One of my other best memories was of playing table tennis and pool in the old workshop. Table tennis, until the last of our balls were either broken, lost inside a jumble of boxes piled high on of the work benches, or got stuck in a spot where you could just about touch it with your finger tip, but couldn’t extract it. “So, I guess we’re playing pool now?”
Across the yard from the workshop stood a huge water tank, baking in the sun all day. After a day in the dust and sun of the veldt, we’d come home and run hot water straight from it into a sink bath on the lawn and jump in there with our cozzies. To sit in a warm bath, looking out over the koppies and smelling the sweet summer air; just one of the best things. I have memories of having pictures of this, but none here with me in London.
Once it was dark proper, I’d sometimes go and lie on a patch of cool grass and look at the night sky, which in the place, sometimes felt like it was on fire the stars were so bright. It made your heart jump looking at that immense sky. I want to see it again so badly. I haven’t seen a night sky like that anywhere I’ve been since. You have to be in dark sky country to see the stars like that.
I always thought it would be an interesting litmus test; to see if someone was bored or awed by this landscape. Moved or unmoved by this sky. One of my cousins recently took his girlfriend there for the first time. She loved it, and it meant something to him, and I get it.
There are other cool memories; board games in the sun room. Sleeping on mattresses on the floor with sibs and friends, cackling like hyenas, making jokes in the dark. Standing on the back of the Landy, swaddled in heavy parkas on night drives. The distinct clink of a farm gate hitting a gate post.
The sun made up for a mostly grey week, by showing its face yesterday, warming the day to a balmy 2°C; an invitation to head out. None was needed. I’ve been heading out in all sorts recently; rain, fog, night, day, freezing wind, just to get a break from being inside.
I ended up walking around random suburban streets for hours and hours. Not really going anywhere. Just enjoying the sun, and delaying going home. Terraced housing, was one of the things that weirded me out most when I moved to England. Whole streets and neighbourhoods; same, same, same. I grew up outside a city where 80% of houses are detached, and each is different from the next. When I walk around here, I look around for small details in amongst all the sameness. And find it too. At one point yesterday, I had two old guys across the street call out to me, asking me if I was lost/needed help. “No, I’m just looking at that, thanks.” *points at a thing*
Maybe I do feel a bit lost. Lost in limbo. Like a lot of us do at the moment. Unable to make plans, go places or see/meet people. But I’ve been finding it sort of comforting just walking around without a set destination in mind, and without consulting maps on my phone. Being in motion, if only temporarily. Maybe there’s a comforting analogy here; we’re all individuals, but we’re all in a similar boat. Or in similar-looking boxes. Waiting out a time when we might escape again.
Well, I’m continuing the trend from the last post and doing a bit of writing for the sake of catharsis. I like this idea anyway of words flowing from images anyway. I took this one down the street this morning.
In a normal year, I’m usually travelling between Christmas and NYE, because it’s usually pretty dead in the city around that time. It’s also a good time to try and grab a few days of winter sun. Last year I spent Christmas day walking around a completely deserted forest reserve on Sao Miguel island on my own. It was eerie, but it was amazing. Pure nature. A dream day. This year, under the current Tier 4 restrictions, I stayed home like I was supposed to (although I had invites from friends to join them at theirs). In the evening, my neighbour and I dragged out chairs into our doorways, put on our biggest coats and had a drink by candlelight across the hallway. A cool little bonding sesh.
Even when I’m travelling, I’m usually back home before NYE, to decompress before getting back to work the Monday after. I’ve always been loathe to go out and see the big fireworks in the city. The idea of being in the crush in the cold doesn’t appeal to me. The last time I thought fireworks were actually beautiful was watching the red glow of them, reflected in the turquoise waters of the ocean at Arniston when I was a teen. The air was still warm from the scorching day, and we watched a few drunken skinny dippers run into the waves below, from the bluff where we were sitting. Red glow, blue water, white waves, warm air. Some memories stick like that.
Last night I went to bed around 11pm; feeling mellow (and slightly drunk), and thinking I might sleep right through the fireworks. But I was stirred by something like the sound of popcorn popping in another room just before midnight. I was going to stay in my warm bed, but the noise increased, and beckoned to me, to do what I always do. Stand in the bath/shower, open the dormer window above, and watch the it all go off. Fireworks are always big around here, but it felt like everyone had bought twice the amount they usually do, and was hell bent on blasting every bad memory of 2020 to smithereens. Every internal scream, every anxious/frustrated hour, every depressed feeling, was tied to a rocket and blasted into the night. The sound of it resembled a war zone. Every loud pipebomb-sounding explosion, every multipop, every screech and every whistle, was aimed at obliterating 2020. The red flashes on the horizon resembled lightning.
I suppose fireworks are meant to be celebratory, but from where I stood, it looked like a send off. A great big “f*** you” to the year gone. A cleansing of sorts. I thought about the people I met around my neighbourhood this year, and in bordering neighbourhoods, seeing and hearing the same thing. Wondering what they were thinking and feeling just then. I felt a weird sense of solidarity, even though I curse the fireworks every year. Eventually the noise started dying down to a low crackle. The air was thick with smoke. It blanketed us. Everything and everyone. And I imagined a collective sigh of relief rising up through it.