In preparation for Assignment 3 I am asked to keep a diary for at least 2 weeks writing two or three pages about myself and what I have been doing and thinking.  The brief tells me that I can be as specific or poetic as I wish and gives me the option of picking a theme.  It is an open brief designed to give me freedom to create something personal which suits me best.  It remains to be seen whether I will be able to fulfil the 2 to 3 pages requirement every day in the light of time availability.

As the purpose of keeping the diary is to provide subjects and inspiration to enable me to fulfil the requirements of Assignment 3, it will clearly be helpful for me to bear in mind the brief for the Assignment so that I can tailor my diary accordingly.  

Assignment 3 requires me to select the most interesting parts of the diary (which could also be the most mundane or banal) and interpret them into a photographic project.  The brief for the Assignment suggests that I may choose to select a few days or phrases that spark an idea for me or I may wish to exaggerate how I was feeling one day into a parody of myself or the circumstance.  I am also given the option of creating a ‘document’ of that time in a re-creation of events or to direct a model to act out some of the content of the diary to make my own ‘film stills’.  Other possibilities are to present my chosen diary entries as a visual diary or to use it as a springboard for further exploration. There is also the option of inserting the images like snapshots into the diary and submitting it all as a single work.

The brief for the Assignment clearly gives me a very free hand to implement my own response and to be creative about how I do that.  At this stage I have no idea what my response will look like (it is very unlikely to include a model!) and I am in some fear and trepidation about the process.  The only way that I can proceed is to dive in with the diary, work my way through the projects and exercises, and see what comes out of it.  As regards the diary that I will keep, I will be selective about what I will be including and although I will be sharing some personal stuff and some of my thoughts and emotions there will be some areas that I will not include.

—–   o0o   —–

Day 1.   Tuesday, 6th September

The morning of work started as usual with a check of my emails as I ate breakfast, my usual diet of muesli and fruit with a mug of green tea.  The day had not started well with a disagreement with my partner, Lynne, but the energy it generated made me plan a few changes.  The spare bedroom has been a feng shui disaster and cause of discord for a long time so action was required and now was the time to do it.  But first I had to check out what was happening with the OCA and keep up to speed with new developments.  Was this procrastination or is the OCA course really my top priority?  A bit of both if I am honest!  An email from my tutor confirmed that he had received the link to my recently posted Assignment 2 and other posts re Part 2 of the C&N course and that he would give me a response in due course.  I hope that his feedback will be positive.  I also looked at posts on the OCA Level 1 Facebook page and as usual found much of interest.  

In particular a post in a very pertinent string debating the pros and cons of contemporary conceptual photography and the challenging style of much commentary on such work drew my attention to a video on the work of Gregory Crewdson so of course I had to check it out.  I find it very difficult to adequately keep up with all the stuff going on in the OCA as well as read the course books, do the necessary research, try to learn new techniques, and keep up with all the other relevant websites and blogs, etc. but having submitted my latest Assignment and taking a brief time out I thought I would spend a bit of time on catching up. I thought I would just watch the first 5 minutes of the video on Gregory Crewdson to see what it was about but found it so mind boggling that I watched all of it.  The huge amount of time, effort, equipment and crew that Crewdson employs to create individual images is enormous and the financial cost must be huge. I have no idea what motivates him, how he can justify all the effort and time expended, how he persuades others to get involved, how he finances it and what its purpose is.  It all seems a bit like the soliloquy from Macbeth, “It is a tale ……… full of sound and fury signifying nothing”.  Clearly the images signify something but I am not sure what.  The images are in such a saturated rich colour that it is reminiscent of HDR. If they were landscapes they would be criticised by OCA tutors as being ‘tosh’.  Some of the images are strangely unsettling but so are many by other artists who do not need to have a circus behind them to take the shots.  I am bemused!

Having got into my usual stuff about contemporary photographic styles, I thought I had better get on with something more productive.  I cleared as much as I could out of the spare bedroom to make space, but my recently purchased second hand professional A2 printer had to stay there as it was far too big and heavy.  My purpose was to remove a selection of redundant beds that had been stacked up against the wall and take them to the dump.  I hate taking things to the dump – it seems to be such a demonstration of failure to recycle and it depresses me every time I go and see how much waste the human race creates – but in this case there was no alternative except burying them in the garden.  It was a real struggle to get these heavy mattresses out of the house without damaging anything and even more effort to get them stacked up on the roof of the car without ripping off a wing mirror (one is already held on with duct tape after an earlier failure to get a kayak on the roof).  The removal of the beds and mattresses revealed what I had feared – a thick layer of mould and damp on the wall and carpet which needed to be tackled but not yet.  I had to get to the tip before it shut at 3.45!  

Having just got to the tip in time and steeled myself to add to the piles of waste I deposited them in the correct places and then set off again.  After all the indoor work I felt an urgent need to escape to the wild so took a small detour to call in on Tretio Moor and see if there were any subjects for my big lens camera which always goes with me when I go out ‘just in case’.  The wild and wet expanse of Tretio is a great place to escape to and find some peace of mind and is also a good place to look for harriers and short eared owls.  None were there on this visit but three kestrels having an aerial joust and two distant snipe brightened my day.  I took some distant shots of some semi-wild horses with a view to seeing if there was anything I could use in a series I am putting together on Wild Pembrokeshire and returned home to de-mould the walls and carpets, install a dehumidifier from the garage and try to make it smell better before my partner got home.  I then made supper – an interesting mix of Quorn chicken pieces and green peppers in a carbonara sauce with pasta – laid the table and waited to see if she would be back before the 10.00 clock news.  She wasn’t!

Whilst waiting I checked my emails again (great – one from my son in Australia!) and had another look to see what was new in the OCA.  I am starting to think it is a bit of an obsession! Suddenly remembered I had to register with two auction houses on The Saleroom as there are some maps and rugs coming up tomorrow that I want a crack at so I did that.  After supper and washing up I retired to bed and my book on the recording and identification of bat calls.  I guess I will have to paint the walls of the bedroom tomorrow!

—–   o0o   —– 

Day 2.   Wednesday, 8th September

The day started sunny and bright calling me outside but I was not to be tempted despite the rarity of the good weather nowadays.  I have a different agenda today as there are some antique maps and rugs coming up for sale at auctions across the country that I intend to bid for on-line via The Saleroom.  Included are three original Saxton maps and a number of Speeds of English and Welsh counties.  The Saxtons dating from 1575 were the first maps ever published of UK counties and are very rarely found on the market.  Each had an estimate of £100 – £200 indicating that the auctioneers didn’t have a clue about their rarity and value.  In order to keep up with the current art and antiques scene (I am a small time dealer and collector with an outlet in an antiques centre) I followed both auctions on line for the morning which was interesting.  Strange how there still seems to be a lot of money sloshing around in the country when many people are finding it so hard to make ends meet. As it happens I failed to get any of the items I was after, my limited budget being inadequate to match the market.  I was the underbidder on the Welsh Saxton at £1200 but as this would have totalled £1500 after costs were added and I only have £1250 in my account at the moment it was a stretch too far.  The other Saxton went for over £2500 – so much for estimates!  Gutted!

To escape from the house and the computer briefly I went to the wild bit at the bottom of the garden to see if the the sun had tempted any grass snakes out to bask on the grass clippings pile but none were to be seen.  A couple of common lizards scuttling into a pile of sticks was a welcome sight that made me smile.  As always the sea shining beyond the cliffs two fields away looked refreshingly beautiful with a small flock of seagulls blinking in the sun as they turned and their wings caught the light. The distant calls of a pair of chough as they crossed the headland brought home to me the wildness and the fragility of the landscape and my good fortune at being able to live in this environment.    

Having checked emails I found one from an ecological consultant asking if I was able to assist with some work on the following Friday.  It involved working with a team of workmen clearing vegetation from railway embankments about 25 miles away. My role would be to cover the ground ahead of the work team to identify any areas or features of conservation / ecological value or importance and to advise on their protection / management.  As I had a window of opportunity and needed the work I agreed and spent the next hour downloading, completing and returning the forms required to prove that I was a responsible and healthy person and worthy of being granted access to railway property.  I have to be on site at 7.30 am to don protective clothing and get my bearings before the gang start work so that will be a challenge for someone who is not a ‘morning person’!  It is important to me to take on this sort of work not only for the money now but also for what it might lead on to in the future.

After a brief lunch I hunted through the garage for old sheets, paint brushes and paint to start the work required to make the spare bedroom walls look more presentable.  The dehumidifier I had put in the bedroom had extracted 2 tanks full of water from the room and the walls so  I thought it would be OK.  It was a rare hot day and the heat in the room was almost unbearable as I was having to wear overalls over my clothes and the dehumidifier was warming things up so it was not a comfortable job.  It did mean that the paint dried quickly though so, having gone round once, I was able to put a second coat on straight away.  It actually required 3 coats to adequately hide the stains left by the mould so I was pleased when it was finished but I badly needed a shower.

No sign of my partner to share supper with by 21.00 so I had it alone while watching the TV.  A choice between the build up to the start of the Paralympics in Rio and a programme about a wildlife film maker in the Congo was a no-brainer so the Congo it was – brilliant!   Catching up with yet more activity on the OCA website and related Facebook pages then filled my time and contributed to a feeling of inadequacy and frustration about the volume of stuff that needed to be done and the lack of time in which to do it.  Completed this diary entry and so to bed with my bat call identification book!

—–   o0o   —–

Day 3.  Thursday, 9th September

Rain was falling and the sea was obscured by mist this morning.  Having caught up with local news in the ‘Western Telegraph’ and felt aggrieved by a letter in the paper by a holiday home owner who was complaining at length about the fact that he was now having to pay extra Council tax on his second home (what a tragedy for him!) I caught up with emails and the doings on the OCA sites.  A post entitled ‘Getting the Most from your Tutor” caught my eye so of course I had to read it and then the  33 comments and then also the related video on the OCA website!  All interesting and helpful stuff.  The upshot is that the tutor, being self-employed and with other demands on his/her time is unlikely to be able to look at a student’s work with any regularity if at all between the posting of Assignments every two to four months for feedback. Also, whereas the Assignments and the learning log will be assessed and commented on, the work done on the Exercises might not be looked at as it does not form part of the formal assessment. Also the student is expected to seek other sources of advice from OCA staff or fellow students rather than immediately going to the tutor.  This is a difference between distance learning and a traditional residential course where the tutor is more readily accessible on a day to day basis.  Quite reasonably, the student is expected to acknowledge the work done by the tutor in providing feedback on the Assignments and advice on what future actions, reading and research would be of benefit to him / her in their studies.   The student is also, of course, expected to follow the tutors advice and recommendations!  All good stuff and useful to have it set out clearly.

Another brief excursion into the world of antique auctions saw me outbid again, this time on a wonderful Chinese Tang period (c. 700 AD) horse and rider.  Estimated at £250 – £350 I was the underbidder at £480.  Gutted again!  I cannot believe that a piece of such age, power and beauty can be bought for so little and yet I am unable to justify spending that sort of money at the moment when my partner has a big birthday coming up, I have the mortgage to pay off this month and the car requires work.  Being responsible and practical can be such a pain sometimes!  I don’t know why I keep putting myself in these situations where I am regularly disappointed. Ah, well. It’s probably just as well as my partner wouldn’t have approved – just something else to clutter the place up with.  She prefers shoes and clothes!

To seek solace I went down to the bottom of the garden again to seek snakes as the sun had replaced the rain and the garden was sparkling with light and life.  Again nothing. I know there is at least one grass snake there as I had found her shed skin, a wonderful 3′ long inside-out sleeve of scales and ventral plates, on the grass pile about 3 weeks ago.  Maybe she is still incubating eggs in the warmth of the rotting grass compost although they should be hatching by now. My visit was rewarded by a very hairy large black caterpillar of a species I didn’t recognise and an abundance of young lizards scuttling around the pile of cut branches.  I took a few record shots of these and of a specimen of the common, but gruesomely named, flesh fly for posting on my ecology web page.

After lunch of beans on toast – I don’t have the imagination or energy to be more creative and healthy although I did finish with an apple – during which I caught up with the latest goings on with Helen’s court case in ‘The Archers’, and dealt with an email from a local gallery which has had a painting of mine to sell for months that I had bought recently as a speculation.  The watercolour is by well respected local artist David Tress who I used to know when I lived in Haverfordwest and whose work now fetches thousands.  The picture that I have is in an older of his styles and is not so saleable as his more recent work but the gallery owner, further to our subsequent correspondence, is now going to reframe it and try it in an exhibition starting later this month with a lower price on it. I also sent her images of another more recent work by the same artist that is surplus to requirements and am waiting to hear if she will try to sell that as well.

The rest of the afternoon was spent putting some pictures that I want to clear on eBay so that I can make some space and more importantly free up some money.  They are nothing special, a mix of recent and antique oils and watercolours, and I am not expecting miracles.  The evening was taken up by reading through the Environmental Appraisal and related paperwork relevant to tomorrow’s ecology work.  It’s quite a lot to take in on a project I have not been involved with before.  I also had a time out unblocking drains in the shower and the bathroom sink (extraordinary what stuff gets down there) and cleaning floors before my partner got in at about 21.30 wanting some supper.  Knocked something up quickly and then did the washing up before making a packed lunch and getting clothes and equipment ready for tomorrow’s early start.  

—–   o0o   —–

Day 4.   Friday 9th September 

When the alarm shrilled into life at 06.00 am I had to move fast to switch it off and then get up before I rolled over and became unconscious again or disturbed my partner.  Getting dressed for the day ahead, eating breakfast, making a flask of coffee, packing everything into the car and setting off was all achieved in a blurry haze.  I am not a morning person!  I arrived at the site at Cold Blow dead on 07.30 as I had planned but all was deserted except for a pale and proud buzzard who flapped lazily off a nearby fence post as I approached.  I spent my time getting acquainted with the area and noting down the bird species that I could see or hear.  

The gang arrived in a minibus soon after 8.00 am and all piled into the canteen area of the temporary works compound where they sat around drinking coffee and chatting, the conversation being liberally sprinkled with words that would have made my mother dive for cover and put her hands over my ears.  After some discussion it appeared that, despite my completing the application form, the necessary Visitor Permit had not been issued. Some frantic telephoning and emailing later the permit was sent to my phone as an attachment, but I then had to drive to my daughter’s house in Haverfordwest to get it printed out as only a hard copy was acceptable.  On returning I found that the gang had departed for a nearby cafe for breakfast and so I filled out time by starting a report on the day.  Work started eventually and after a safety and operational briefing I was able to enter the work site and start to evaluate the environment.    

My role was one of a ‘watching brief’, working with the contractors to ensure that the work carried out met legal standards in terms of environmental protection.  I was to be on site to identify features of ecological / conservation value within the work area, mark and record them and ensure that they were given the protection appropriate under existing environmental legislation.  Of particular concern would be the presence of badger setts, dormice, bat roosts, reptiles, amphibians and occupied bird nests and I was also to look for other species protected by law.   I was to advise the contractors of anything I found and ensure that they carried out their work in order to meet the legal requirements.  As it happens the badger setts were outside of the current work area and although there were a few old birds nests and cracks in trees which could be used by bats, nothing new was found of significant conservation value on this occasion so I spent most of my time helping the gang to clear felled timber and scrub.

On my way back home I did some food shopping to top up the larder and then called in on my daughter and her family who live just outside Haverfordwest.  As always it was brilliant to see her, her partner, Tristan, and my grandchildren, Kai and Taya.  They are such lovely, bright and bubbly people and there is always so much for us to talk about.  We caught up with each others comings and goings over a cup of tea while Taya (4) was creating brightly coloured drawings of all sorts of things that were in her head with a set of pens that I had brought for her.  I was delighted to learn that Kai (15) had had good results for the exams he took before the summer holidays so it was clear that he must have been doing more work than it had appeared!  Well done him!

The evening was spent cooking, catching up on emails and this diary.  And so to bed!

—–   o0o   —–

Day 5, Saturday 10th September

The day dawned bright and sunny – or at least I presume it did as it was bright and sunny by the time I surfaced an hour or two after dawn.  A special treat was an early Face Time call from my son and his family in Brisbane so that we could share in Flynn’s, my grandson’s, second birthday celebrations.  Flynn is changing and growing every time we call and it is brilliant to have the technology to enable us to keep in touch in such a connecting way.  He was calling me grandad and blowing me kisses so it is clear that a real and meaningful relationship is there between us despite the distance.  They were complaining about the winter cold – down to 10 degrees at night and 20 degrees during the day – which struck me as being a little disingenuous when our Summer temperatures rarely reach those heights!

After breakfast and then replenishing the bird feeders I settled down with the computer to write up a summary of the previous day’s work to pass back to the Ecology Consultancy.  I then followed a couple of on line auctions, one of which had a collection of maps and another which had some quality antique rugs that the auctioneers had failed to recognise for what they were and had placed ridiculously low estimates on.  A particularly good and very desirable antique Caucasian Kazak which carried an estimate of £40 – £60 I took to £600 and it finally sold for £1400 before commission. A Turkish Ushak carpet estimated at £40 – £60 went as I had anticipated for £800 and other Caucasian rugs with estimates of around £100 were each sold for not far short of £1000.  There are no bargains any more now that the internet makes everything so available to all, and yet again it was demonstrated that I have the eye for the right pieces but not the funds.  The same was true for the maps although, in fairness to the auctioneers, their cataloguing and estimates were nearer the mark.  I need some nice rugs for my Antique Centre stock as the autumn and winter are the best time of year for selling when the buyers’ thoughts turn to the interiors of their properties rather than the outside.  It’s all very frustrating.

In order to make the most of this brief and rare spell of summer weather, I turned my attention to tackling the serious growth in the garden.  The drive was getting narrower and narrower as the encroaching Crocosmia flowed out in rolling green, brown and orange waves from where it was supposed to be confined.  Wheelbarrow full after wheelbarrow full removed and wheeled off to a compost pile seemed to make little difference, but I continued until my partner, Lynne, said that she had prepared a late lunch / early supper which we were going to eat in the back garden to make the most of the sun before it sank below the trees and the cool shadows took over.  This was a welcome break and the food was delicious.  It was very connecting sharing a meal looking out towards the sparkling sea and the rising and falling flock of hundreds of gulls, crows and jackdaws that moved between a pool of water in a neighbouring field and the cliff tops further out where the land ends.  A few late butterflies were still around and martins and swallows hawking for insects over the hedges gave hope that summer was not yet over.  

Retiring inside when the chilling shadows replaced the sunshine, I returned to my diary and also to catch up with the latest goings on in the OCA.  Two posts on the OCA Part 1 Facebook page caught my eye. One gave a link to a web page which exploded 5 myths of digital photography, the most surprising for me being that changes in ISO settings do not affect the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor by enabling it to capture more photons as I had thought but by effectively amplifying the weak signal received thereby also amplifying any accompanying noise.  The link is given here : –

The second post was from a fellow student who had mentioned the work of Thomas Freidrich Shaefer in a piece she had written in her learning blog only to receive a message from the artist himself offering to give some advice on the techniques he uses.  It is an eye opener that the living subjects of our studies for the course might actually be picking up and reading our comments.  Whilst being intriguing it does not suggest to me that I should be guarded about what I say about their work.  If I write my honest response to their work then that is what it is – my personal view – and, whilst it would benefit a reader’s understanding of my view if I was to give an explanation, I do not need to defend it.  An artist cannot expect everyone to get what they get from a work and that is particularly true in the contemporary conceptual field when the meaning and subject are often ambiguous or opaque.

—–   o0o   —–

Day 6, Sunday 11th September

We were supposed to be going to the second day of the Red Bull International Cliff Diving event at nearby Blue Lagoon, Abereiddi today, but had heard the evening before that the day had been cancelled.  Very disappointing as we had managed to get tickets despite the fact that all had sold out within 60 minutes of going on sale and I had all sorts of ideas of the photographs I wanted to take.  We had decided to walk in this time instead of taking kayaks round and sitting in them in the lagoon below the dive platform.  This suited me as it meant that I could explore all sorts of different vantage points and angles to take my shots.  However, it was not to be.  The forecast of high winds on the Sunday persuaded the organisers that it would be too dangerous for the divers so they contracted the event so that all the competitions were completed in the one day.  

The resulting gap in my plans for the day meant that I could rejoin my battle with the vegetation in the garden!  Hooray!  So out came the secateurs, sickle,  leather gloves, bow saw, rake and wheelbarrow again and battle commenced.  On completing the drive I then tackled the overhanging branches of the sycamores bordering the drive and soon had a small mountain of them to reward my efforts.  Thinking I had finished that job I rested on my oars metaphorically for a minute only to have my partner come out of the house where she was preparing some entries for a WI flower and craft competition and say that she thought that there were more that needed to be removed.  The wind by this time had reached fever pitch and was whistling in off the sea so the Cliff Diving organisers decision to cancel was vindicated.  Having met the expectations of my partner with the trees I then moved to the front bank facing the roadway and tackled the burgeoning coils of bramble, nettle, honeysuckle and small trees that were threatening to attack passing pedestrians.  The wheelbarrow that I had nearby to receive the fruits of my labour, whilst proving no obstacle to the tourist buses that went past without slowing down, seemed to present a challenging hazard to the tourist drivers of ordinary saloon cars who slowed to a crawl and looked utterly fearful or resentful as they crept past, eyes flicking from the road ahead to the wheelbarrow and back as though it was about to pounce.  Tourists have strange ways when they encounter our small local lanes.  They either crawl along them in the middle of the road and flinch perceptibly if anything approaches before stopping in utter confusion as to how they are to deal with the situation, or they hammer along at ridiculous speeds as if though they own the road and glare at me as I have to screech to a halt to avoid contact.  They continue to glare until one is forced to reverse 50 yards back down to a wider space despite the fact that they have a lay by or farm gateway 2 feet behind them!  Locals believe that holidaymakers leave their brains behind when they set off from home and there might be some truth in it. 

A BBQ with my partner, Lynne’s, sister and family at their house and campsite at Trellyn Woodland Camping was a happy and relaxing time with good food and good company.  I am always in awe of the achievements and skills of Kevin and Claire who seem to be able to turn their hand to anything and are always implementing new and ambitious ideas. Their eco-campsite with yurts, domes and traditional camping in a wonderful woodland setting is a case in point with Kev designing and making all the structures including a Hobbit house.    

On returning home, as my partner had asked if I could help her with preparing some entries for the WI photography competition, I set to to tackle this next challenge.  She had identified about 8 shots as a short list from her collection but was unable to decide between them.  They all needed some post – processing so I spent the next hour or so tweaking them all in Lightroom to assist in the final decision making process.  The selection was whittled down to two, a shot of fresh mackerel on wooden planks and another of clifftop wild flowers above the sea.  I never fail to be surprised and rather peeved at the quality of some images taken on iPhones!  

A last minute check of emails and OCA doings preceded retirement to bed.

—–   o0o   —

Day 7  Monday, 12th September

Rain and wind this morning gave no encouragement to venture out so I printed up my partner’s photographs and then spent some time exploring the loft and the garage, both enterprises much more difficult and laborious than they might sound, in order to find suitable resources to frame and mount them.  Due to mismatches in shape and size this proved more time consuming and challenging than I expected but eventually I did as good a job as I could under the circumstances and tucked them to one side ready for them to go to the local hall the following day.

I then turned my attention to trying to sort out some of my own images for two different purposes.  Firstly, I am applying for a slot in next summer’s exhibitions calendars of two local venues, the Oriel y Parc Visitor Centre and Gallery at St Davids and the gallery at Theatre Mwldan at Cardigan and I need to submit some images to accompany the applications.  To give them a choice and hopefully boost my chances of acceptance  I am going to suggest three different theme options for their consideration as follows : –

  1. Wild Pembrokeshire.   A series of black and white images depicting the more detailed and ‘out of season’ wilder aspects of the local environment by way of an antidote to the usual HDR calendar / postcard / tourist brochure shots that are usually seen.
  2. Vernacular Pembrokeshire.  A series of colour and black and white images depicting the rural architecture of the area, both inhabited and derelict to show what is under threat of being lost and its potential for being saved.
  3. Knapp Fisher’s Pembrokeshire.  A series of black and white and colour images of scenes depicted in the paintings and prints of local artist (recently deceased) John Knapp Fisher in the style of the originals.  Knapp Fisher’s iconic depictions of Pembrokeshire’s landscapes, villages, cottages and harbours are what many people think of when they think of Pembrokeshire. 

The other purpose is to enter 3 wildlife images in a Pembrokeshire Wildlife photographic  competition run by the Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum which enables them to gain the use of photos for their publicity and promotional material.

I have been through thousands of photos in my archives and selected a short list of those that might be suitable for inclusion after some post-processing work and also to give me some inspiration as to what I can improve on and what gaps I need to fill. The Knapp Fisher project would have to be started from scratch as I have no suitable images yet for that one. 

I learnt today that I have been offered two more days of ‘watching brief’ ecology work on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, this time in the Pembroke area.  I accepted the offer and then spent time sorting out the details and the permits so that the problems encountered last time are avoided.  

A message from the accommodation booking website Owners Direct late in the evening demanded my immediate attention as it was a potential guest for my holiday cottage in Little Haven enquiring as to whether I would take a booking for 4 adults and four young children for a 10 day period in August 2017.  I had to decline as my insurance stipulates a maximum of 6 at any one time, and also I do not accept part weeks during peak times as it could leave me out of pocket.

—–   o0o   —–

Day 8, Tuesday 13th September

Today was a mixed and rather unproductive day, much of which I cannot remember as I am writing this up a couple of days later and it is all a bit vague.  The afternoon was spent shopping in Haverfordwest buying a card and presents for my daughter, Anna’s, birthday on Thursday and trying to find orange hi-viz protective clothing for my work with the de-vegetation gang tomorrow.  I was successful with the first but the latter was more of a problem.  I tried a number of establishments around and outside the town but whereas yellow hi-viz clothing was all over the place, orange was as rare as the apocryphal hen’s teeth. I eventually found a store that supplied orange but the jacket had to be ordered in and would not arrive until the following day.  

Another purpose for going into town was to drop off a couple of paintings by local artists that I had acquired as a speculation and which I was now leaving at the Late November gallery which was having a selling exhibition of local artists’ work in a week or two.  Selling on commission of 20% would still give me a good profit if they sell so I am keeping my fingers crossed.  It would be good to get some money in and also to make more space around the house.

My partner, Lynne, came home late after the WI evening full of the joy of success having got two firsts and a second with her various entries in the produce and crafts competitions.  Her photograph of mackerel that I had Light-roomed and framed won its section and now graces our wall with the red ‘FIRST PRIZE’ label under it so I can take some satisfaction from contributing to this achievement.

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Day 9, Wednesday 14th September

An early start saw me heading off south towards Pembroke at 7.00 am for another day working alongside contractors on railway embankment de-vegetation work.  On arrival at the location as described there was no sign of a work gang or a site office so a few phone calls were made and directions were given.  I would never have found it otherwise as it was well off the beaten track.  Having gone through all the necessary signing in, induction, safety talk, etc. and been lent a hi-viz jacket for the day, we set off to the site which was adjacent to the site offices.  Most of the felling and de-vegetation work had already been completed so it was a question of chipping and bagging the cut branches and stacking the logs trackside for later removal. A quick inspection convinced me that there was no recent badger activity and nothing of significant ecological interest to be protected so I spent the day recording species seen, filling two large 1 tonne builders bags with litter and general rubbish and working alongside the gang clearing the site of branches and logs.  It was an extremely hot day and as I was wearing heavy hi-viz jacket and overtrousers, gloves and a hard hat it was like a sauna and I must have lost litres of fluid!  The only ecological event came when a member of the gang caught a shrew by the chipping machine and I released it unscathed away from the site.

On returning to town I collected the hi-viz jacket that had now arrived in the store, did some essential food shopping and dashed back home for a shower.  I was extremely embarrassed wandering around Morrison’s dripping and smelling after my earlier labours and spent as little time in the shop as possible, keeping my distance from people as far as I could.  I often feel badly about those people who trail an aroma of body odour and stale sweat behind them in shops and now I was one of them!  Having showered and put my wet clothes through the washing machine and onto the clothes dryer, I tackled the job of boxing and wrapping Anna’s presents and writing her card.  The card was a large one which incorporated a press out and put together model of Yoda from ‘Star Wars’ which, despite the fact that she has attained the unbelievable age of 37 (which makes me feel ancient), I knew would appeal to her wonderfully fresh and appealing sense of fun.

The evening finished with the preparation of a packed lunch for the following morning, the sorting out of all the clothing and equipment I would need and the preparation of an evening meal for Lynne and I.  I was not best pleased when she didn’t turn up until 21.30, over an hour after she had said she would having spent an inordinate amount of time chatting at her sister’s, so the carefully prepared meal was not what it had been!

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Day 10, Thursday 15th September

Another early start to travel down to Pembroke. The early morning sunrise brought a pink and orange glow to the countryside and tinged the low lying mist in the valleys to create candy floss.  I would have loved to have had the time to stop and take photographs of the magical landscapes that my journey was constantly revealing but it was not possible if I was to get to site on time.  So many beautiful images lost!  I did get some comfort from the fact that even if I had managed to capture some images of the beauty of that morning, they would not have been acceptable for my degree course as certain OCA tutors would have disregarded them completely as being non-contemporary and non-conceptual and therefore ‘tosh’.  

The work gang was to be working on a different section of embankment at the other end of the tunnel today which was to be reached via a short van journey.  I am feeling very much at home with this gang – a great bunch of people who have created a supportive and enthusiastic team with a higher level of conversation than some I have worked with in my life.  As with the Cold Blow gang, they are very safety conscious and paperwork aware, taking it all very seriously and not accepting any short cuts or slackness which is impressive.  Working practices and related issues were, surprisingly, a major topic of conversation.  

The new site had again been largely de-vegetated already and site clearance was the order of the day.  There were a few large trees along the boundary that still needed to be felled so ropes and chainsaws were the order of the day with much planning and pulling required to ensure that the trees fell in the right direction and not onto the fence or the track.  A high level of ability and professionalism was matched but never overtaken by an equally high level of fun and banter amongst the gang members.  Again, after a quick inspection of the site to ensure that no features of ecological significance were present or at risk and that the badger gates had not been sprung, I worked alongside the gang in their site clearance efforts, piling logs and dragging branches to the chipper.  I also cleared the site of litter and rubbish, filling half a builders’ bag.  The amount of litter and rubbish on the opposite embankment which was bordered by council housing was considerable and a real eyesore, the area obviously having been used by the local inhabitants for the disposal of their unwanted rubbish for some time, but I was unable to do anything about it as I did not have access.  I took some photographs for the record.  The presence of two greater spotted woodpeckers in adjacent trees throughout the day was a recurring pleasure.  The day was as hot as the previous day and I was quickly soaked again.  The loan of a hi-viz waistcoat to replace my heavy jacket by one of the gang was a great improvement but I still dripped!

On my return to Haverfordwest I called in on Anna and her family to share in her birthday celebrations.  I arrived just at the same time as Lynne which was good timing so we could go in together.  Anna and Kai, my 15 year old grandson, were there and in good spirits but her partner, Tristan, and my 4 year old granddaughter, Taya, were out shopping and returned soon after bearing bunches of flowers and a selection of special food for a special supper including 4 sea bream.  Tristan is the perfect partner for Anna, being a hard working and skilled man about the house as well as an enthusiastic and accomplished cook.  A very happy and fun filled time ensued over a cup of tea and a slice of birthday cake with Anna opening presents and cards and making her ‘press out and put together’ figure of Yoda all on her own without the help of the kids.  The results were later posted on FaceBook.  

All of this was rather more successful than our subsequent attempts to help Kai with answering questions in a maths exam paper which he was studying prior to his taking the real thing in a couple of weeks.  Our initial joint difficulty with understanding the questions was then matched by our joint difficulty with dredging up any knowledge of the maths required to answer them!  I think he was left more confused than before we had started.  We certainly were!

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Day 11, Friday 16th September

Today was the day for doing the changeover in my cottage at Little Haven which I now let out as a holiday cottage in order to derive an income.  At present any income seems to be merely paying for maintaining the property, but I guess that that is a result in itself as it enables me to maintain the value of my  asset for the future.  This year I have had to pay out over £15,000 to replace the conservatory and decking which was threatening to slide down the hillside as a result of water damage after the heavy rains of last autumn.  The idea that a letting cottage is a way of making good money is often not correct as there are so many overheads to take into account including replacement and maintenance; redecoration; insurance; agent’s fees; heating and lighting costs; water, sewage and business rates; advertising; laundry; changeover costs, etc.  

There is always a lot of work to do for the changeover as most people just walk out and leave it as it is so not only does the washing of bedding and the re-making of beds need to be done but all the floors need to be swept and mopped and rugs and carpets brushed; bins emptied; toilets, showers, bath and sinks cleaned; cooker, hob, fridge, freezer and microwave cleaned; windows and mirrors polished; crockery, glassware, cooking equipment and cutlery checked and cleaned; walls and ceilings cleared of spiders and webs; soaps, toilet rolls, washing up materials replenished; house plants watered and fed; bird feeders replenished; rat bait replenished; outside areas swept and outside plants watered and fed; hedges and other vegetation cut back; rubbish and recycling removed; welcome note written and welcome wine left, etc. etc. It’s a lot to get done in 5 hours and a lot of hard work.  And that takes no account of any damage that needs to be repaired or items that need to be replaced!  

Fortunately on this occasion the new guests did not arrive bang on time so I had a little extra time to get everything as I wanted it.  Little was I to know that subsequently these new guests were to break two tiles in the sink surround in the bathroom, refuse to accept any responsibility for the damage or pay any contribution towards the repair, make entirely false accusations about the uncleanliness of the place on their arrival, and then make the insulting claim that they had left the property in a cleaner state than they had found it despite the fact that everything needed cleaning, there was a dog mess on the path, and evidence that the dog had been in the bedrooms with muddy paw prints and hairs as evidence!  Sometimes I wonder why I bother!

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Day 12, Saturday 17th September

It was a lovely morning but the forecast was for rain later in the weekend so I thought that a day around the house was necessary.  Lynne had other things to do again – I can’t remember what now – so I got on with mowing the grass which was still growing despite the lateness in the year.  The front lawn is a major challenge to mow as it is a veritable obstacle course of bushes which have grown to such an extent that they are touching in many places and one is constantly having to duck and weave to make progress. The lawns in the front and back only take about two hours to mow now that I am no longer cutting the large area at the bottom end of the back garden.  I am allowing this to grow on uncut for the summer with the idea that it develops into a flower rich wild area to attract wildlife especially butterflies and other insects.  The lizards and grass snakes have turned up as a bonus.  In a week or two I will have to strip off ‘Ross Poldark style’ and take a scythe to it to take it down for the winter.  This simple activity really gets me in touch with the environment and its history. It also gives me a great respect for old time farmers who used to do all the harvesting with scythes and their own bare hands, the aches and pains that I get a reminder that I am not used to their level of hard labour.  

As I had had to move the de-humidifier out of the garage and into the spare bedroom in order to dry out the walls, the pictures that I was storing in the garage were now at risk of getting damp.  I therefore put some of them in the back of the car ready to take to an auction on Tuesday and others I put in the spare bedroom with the de-humidifier prior to putting them up for sale on eBay. 

The evening was spent at a special fund raising event organised by a group of local people led by Jerome Flynn, the actor from ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Ripper Street’ who lives nearby.  The event was attended by several hundred people in a huge marquee and involved a meal, a bar, several bands, a raffle and auctions. Whilst providing a great evening for local people to get together and let their hair down, the principal purpose of the evening was to raise money to give to the Willington family from the south of the county who lost two of their family members to a tragic fishing accident at sea just off the local north Pembrokeshire coast earlier this year.  I was pleased that my offer of a photo shoot on a subject of the bidder’s choice was bid up to £100 to add to the funds, but I am a little worried about whether I am going to be up to the challenge whatever it might prove to be!

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Day 13, Sunday 18th September 

It was a lazy morning after the activities of the night before.  The morning was spent catching up with emails, OCA doings, my diary and sorting through collections of images to see what I might work on for future projects.  Its surprising how long it all takes!  

As Lynne had a sudden desire for a roast chicken supper, presumably as a result of the down turn in the weather and the apparent onset of winter, a quick shopping trip into St Davids was required.  The upside was that we meandered back through some of the by-lanes, many of which were new to us, which took us through uncharted and wild terrain dotted with signs to farms and holiday cottages down ‘no through roads’,  rugged rock outcrops and rush filled wetlands.  It was a wonderful reminder of the exploration I wanted to do with the camera over the winter to capture the wildness of the surrounding area and hopefully to encounter the short eared owls and harriers that would be over-wintering there.  

While the supper was cooking we escaped to the world of Formula 1 with Lewis Hamilton attempting to extend his small lead over Nico Rosberg in the Championship.  Unfortunately, it was not to be as Lewis was not on top form and all credit to Nico for driving a faultless race.  

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Day 14, Monday 19th September

Another early start so that I can get to the Cold Blow site for 8.00 am.  I wish I could wake up feeling refreshed and without the heavy sense of impending doom hanging over me.  I guess lots of people feel like this, but equally one hears of many who wake full of the joys and looking forward to the day.  That must be a good feeling!

The day working with the de-vegetation gang was uneventful.  In fact I spent much of it waiting for them to do something as I did the last time – it would do my head in to have this as a daily routine.  I ended up scratching around for things to do and joining in with whatever activity was going on.  Much of the vegetation had already been cleared and the work left to do was taking down bushes and trees along the top of the embankment.  The large trees are left for a night gang to fell and clear when the trains are not running so that there is no risk of accident if the trees fell onto the track.  I was asked by the gang if a tree marked with tape as being a possible bat roost could be felled or if it had to be left until the night, and after a careful examination which identified no cracks or crevices of value to bats I gave approval for it to come down.  I found a small number of pigeon and magpie nests in some large hawthorns but after keeping them under surveillance for the morning without any sign of activity I gave approval for these to be felled as well.  If the nests had been used this year the young would have fledged at least a month ago or more and subsequent examination of the nests found them to be empty as expected.  

In the evening I watched the two programmes on conceptual art on BBC Four.  I have great difficulty with much conceptual art as so much of it seems to have little if any point beyond raising the profile of the ‘artist’ and giving them the opportunity of poking fun at ordinary people.  Many of the ‘artists’ featured in the programmes appeared to be living in their own strange world divorced from reality and with little idea why they created the things they did or what purpose they served.  Maybe that is what it is about. They are trying to escape from the painful and challenging aspects of the real world by losing themselves in their own myths and trivia.  The labels of artist and art gave the individuals and their products a sense of weight and authority which enabled them to justify the continuation of their bohemian lifestyle through the support of others who had been taken in by it all.  This is, of course, not true for all those who were featured in the programmes some of whom appeared to be quite sane and positive about what they were doing although its definition as art was sometimes hard to understand in relation to conventional ideas as to what denotes art.  I will need to find the time to collect my thoughts and write a more considered and researched post in my learning log but for now I am prepared to accept that the subject merits such consideration and not all conceptual art is a ‘piss take’ or a juvenile joke.

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Day 15, Tuesday 20th September

This is going to be the last day of my diary writing as it is taking up more of my time than I can justify.  I have had to give up or put on hold a lot of stuff that I would otherwise have been doing such as following a couple of on-line photography courses, one on Photoshop and one on setting up a photographic business, that I had signed up for but have had to set to one side.  I have also fallen behind with any other work required for Part 3 of the OCA course so it is time to get back into that.  I don’t know how the famous diary keepers managed to do it as well as all their other duties and responsibilities – it makes me feel very inept and feeble, but there we are.  That is where I am with it all.  Thank goodness I am able to justify the time and effort on the basis that it is required of me by the course that I have committed to.

Today was a dashing about sort of day.  I had an appointment at 10.30 in Carmarthen with Nigel Hodson, the head of Peter Francis, Fine Art and Antiques Auctioneers so had to leave home at 09.00 am.  I have known Nigel for many years and have been advising him on the Oriental rugs, carpets and textiles coming into his rooms for sale or valuation on a casual basis for a very small fee.  About a year ago Nigel and I discussed his idea that I should have a more formal role and lead the Rug, Carpet and Textile Department of the saleroom taking on responsibility for attracting sale items, identifying and valuing items brought in and cataloguing the relevant section of the sales.  Nothing much had subsequently happened so we were to meet today to take things forward.  It was a useful meeting and a list of actions were drawn up to take things forward.

While I was there I dropped some pictures and an oriental ceramic in for a future sale as I needed to clear them from the garage and spare bedroom and they have been knocking around collecting dust for a long while.  None of them are of any great merit having been bought speculatively with the intention of tidying them up and remounting and framing them, but I now just want to move them on.  I also looked round the auction that was on view before tomorrow’s sale but there was nothing there that was of sufficient interest for me to leave a bid.

I then drove on to Cross Hands at the start of the M4 and dropped in to Welsh Country Auctions to see if there was anything there of interest.  There wasn’t but it did give me a chance to talk to Bethan, a partner in the auction room business who’s husband, Andrew, had suffered a major stroke in March leaving him significantly paralysed. In response to my enquiries Bethan ruefully told me that Andrew’s condition was little changed. I don’t know how Bethan has managed to hold things together running the business on her own and still being able to maintain a positive and light outlook on life.  She is a strong and inspirational lady!

I then called in at Red Dragon carpet cleaners on the industrial estate / shopping centre and collected a small Hereke silk rug that I had left there for cleaning.   Troy, the warm and friendly manager there, who I trust implicitly with any rugs of mine that need cleaning, was as warm and friendly as ever and after a chat he handed over my rug without charge as he said that I had brought them plenty of business so it was a small ‘thank you’.  Last year I took a large number of photographs for him of the various elements of his business and cleaning processes for his new website –  my first photographic commission!

My journey then headed north to the old market town of Llandeilo in the Tywi Valley to drop in to the Works Antiques Centre where I rent a unit selling rugs, textiles, antique maps, paintings and collectables.  Here I dropped off some items for sale and spent some considerable time rearranging the items in my unit and giving the rugs a precautionary spray of moth deterrent (moths are the major cause of damage encountered by rug dealers).  I also collected my sales record and cheque for the past month which was very disappointing and barely covered my costs so yet again I need to review whether it is worth carrying on.  I have it in mind to continue until after New Year and then pull out before the usual months of dearth and despondency that follow.  I will wait until nearer the time before I decide.  It would be a big decision to move out of the art and antiques world but it is increasingly one that I no longer recognise.

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Having completed the diary challenge, I now realise that I wrote it straight as it occurred to me rather than trying to stick to a theme or being intentionally selective.  I have left out much of the emotional and / or relationship stuff, but I think that the contents of the diary gives a reasonable insight into some of what I get up to and why.  

What strikes me is that it represents quite a wide range of interests and activities and it would be difficult to pigeon hole me into any one type or profile.  It is also clear that my focus is divided in several directions which raises questions.  Would I do better to drop some interests and focus my time and energies in one direction?  There is a strong view locally that one needs a number of strings to one’s bow if one is to survive, and I have considerable reservations about reducing my options in case they fail.  Putting all my eggs in one basket feels like a big risk, as well as shutting me off from areas in which I have an interest.  I guess in time increasing age and reducing ability will force me to close down my areas of activity but I am not ready for that yet.

At present I have no idea what I want to select from this diary to respond to the brief of Assignment 3.  It might help to get someone to read over my work and to come up with some ideas, but I am not sure who might the time or interest to wade through this lot.  I will give it some thought.  

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