Archives mensuelles : mai 2018


Travelling around every few years, I actually don’t have that many long-term possessions. For a while I had clothes that had lasted for a good number of years. But beyond a few pieces of underwear that madam wished had long since been thrown away (she was largely responsible for other items of clothing being given away), almost all of my clothes are no older than four years. Thinking about my other items (and my own personal possessions took up less than two suitcases on the recent move), there is almost nothing older than five years. About the only thing currently among the possessions older than five years is my old Nokia phone (perhaps circa 2010), which I still carry around and use as a non-work number, and then my large pocket-sized Bible.

If you’d asked me about my small black leather Bible last week, I would have told you how it was a present received on my tenth birthday (or Christmas). I would have even turned to Colossians and shown you the pages that are still tea-stained from a spilled cup in the first few months of ownership. I could have even described how I had dried the Bible after that incident on the radiator in my bedroom in 22 Hazel Crescent, an address we lived at from 1988 to 1991, and that I could still picture the scene.

Only, on Sunday I was looking at the first few pages of the Bible, and noticed the phrase ‘This edition 1997’, which comes as something of a shock. This dates the Bible to a year before doing my A-levels and then leaving home for university. Providing the date is correct (I can’t come up with a reason why it wouldn’t be), then I was given the Bible by my parents much later (I was 17).

So, a bit of a surprise. This Bible is still something I’ve had and used on a very regular basis for more than two decades. It is I think the only possession that has accompanied me to all the different places I’ve lived (Nottingham, Cardiff, Leicester, Norwich, Oxford, Brazzaville, Abidjan, Dubai, Freetown, Lusaka). So I guess it can still be described as special in some way. The zip broke a very long time ago. And the leather looks worn, as do the pages. I remember there was originally a slip explaining how to take care of the leather, which stayed inside the Bible for a few years, but never led to any action. But the Bible is still as useful as it ever was, and it’s the format of the Bible that I feel most comfortable flicking through and reading from (despite the small text size). I don’t yet feel sentimental about it, but in a life that has seen frequent change, perhaps that feeling will soon come. And maybe it will, in time, become a tattered heirloom.

The Power of Fear

(I’ve been clearing out my computer desktop and found some blog posts that I’d started writing but never posted – this is one from late 2015.)

For the last few weeks I’ve been mulling over a creative project. It’s not amazingly innovative – the proposed name I have is Freetown 366. It would be one of those projects where I try to publish a street photo every day in 2016 (which happens to be a leap year). The goal is to have a big creative project for me to focus on, which gets me out taking a lot more photos (instead of just listening to photography podcasts and reading websites).

The issue is of course that that’s quite a lot of photos, when so far I’ve taken no street photos in my life! For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get myself to walk around the streets with my camera. But here comes the rub – I always find an excuse not to. A few months back it was that I needed a new camera – which is why a bought a little Sony camera (A5100). Then the big fear was theft, so I bought a handy wrist strap. But still I kept finding excuses – including the weather. I came to realise that there was a deep seated fear inside me about stepping out. On the surface the principal fear would be getting my camera stolen, getting into arguments or getting attacked – all of which are pretty unlikely events. The most likely negative outcome, getting the camera taken from me, hardly constitutes the end of the world.

Instead there’s a really deep underlying fear of failure, and a reluctance to leave comfort zones. It’s actually a big thing for me. I don’t really have many excuses for not doing projects like this – work is calming down, I have plenty of free time (not having much else to do without family here). And I also want to be the type of person who is a good photography, carries out projects, and writes. These are things I pencil in for my post-2030 working life, though I take on board the wisdom of Tim Ferris and others that there’s no use saying ‘I’ll do X later in life’ – if you can’t do it now, you won’t do it then.

On Friday evening (when the light was really nice) I delayed again, but on Saturday I got up with the sole intention of driving to work and then walking from there to take photos on a stroll in the city centre. This time, after weeks of putting off, I actually did it. I’d like to say that after overcoming my fears things all opened up and I came back with lots of stunning images. In fact, after more than an hour walking around I came back with very few keepers. But it’s a start.


Postscript (15 May 2018) – I finally got out there, and I didn’t skip a day of publishing photos throughout 2016 on a Facebook page, Freetown Street 366. The project didn’t create a massive buzz, but those who found the page, enjoyed the project, and the photos were featured in a local online magazine, where they are continually used to illustrate stories. There were no negative experiences to report from the streets beyond a few people saying no when I asked for permission to take their photo – and the camera I bought back then with its basic lens has been kicking around in my work bag every day since then, and continues to serve me well (in fact I sold all my other camera equipment).

There’s a mix of quality in the images, but all in some way capture the Freetown street. Did it massively increase my photography skills? I don’t think so. Did I learn how to use the camera beyond the basic settings? No. But still, I have the satisfaction of having completed a major project and created a body of work that I can be proud of. So, here’s to breaking through fear.

Morning writing

A change of country is like the start of a new year – a chapter-beginning that provides a chance to make resolutions and adjust habits. Over a good number of years I’ve woken up early (530/545am) on week days for exercise before work; usually a run or a circuits workout from a phone app. At the beginning of this month, I’ve made quite a radical shift – no more exercise in the morning, but instead, close to two hours of writing time, with a 5am wake-up. At about 720am I drop off my daughter at nursery, and then cycle off to work for 8am.

The main idea is that if writing is something I want to do long term, then I need to be doing it regularly. Up to now, this just wasn’t happening. So far in the morning writing hours, I’ve been keeping a journal (first task of the day), going through a fiction writing MOOC course with FutureLearn (one that I unsuccessfully started back in 2013), listening to the ‘Writing Excuses’ podcast, and writing blogs (most work-related).

Two immediate experiences after two weeks:

  • Firstly, before the problem and stress was finding time for yet another priority. But, when you actually carve out a fixed time, then the whole issue with time just vanishes. It’s no longer about finding the time, because the time has been found. Instead it’s about working out what to do to fill the time. It feels very much like you’re giving yourself a daily present, a wonderful luxury. Perhaps from the outside, it’s odd to describe getting up at 5am as a luxury, but that is genuinely how it feels. It’s rapidly turning into one of my favourite moments in the day.
  • Secondly, although I haven’t yet got a writer’s notebook off the ground to make little observations about the world, I can already see that the fiction writer’s obsession with the little details, should help me to be much more observant and aware in the world. How much am I missing as the world spins by? It would be nice to get some time in a busy cafe with a notebook just observing. Eventually, being a writer would also perhaps give me the permission (like a journalist) to get into people’s lives, and asks them questions about their internal life.

The morning writing hours will be fine-tuned, but I think I’ve established the building blocks for a quite interesting life change. In addition to the writing, it’s nice to see the sun rise (my position at the dining room table faces the window and the exact point where the sun comes up through the trees). And I also see my family rise – generally E the nanny first, then my young son J, quite an early riser. Then we have to get the rest up so D can be ready for school. Back in Freetown, I would do my morning exercise and head to work all in the dark without seeing anyone up.