‘Dunkirk’ – Distilled

A technical tour de force but an artistic failure, ‘Dunkirk’ contrives to combine cheesy dialogue and cardboard characterisation with the terror and immediacy of war and violence. You are in the cockpit of a stricken Spitfire as it swerves towards the grey greasy ┬áChannel and ditches; trapped in the cockpit, you struggle for breath as its sinking pilot bangs frantically on the glass above him, fighting to get out as the water rises. Or you are in the bowels of a bombed or torpedoed ship, as exhausted soldiers fight their way towards the exits. The story follows three narratives, telling this most dramatic of tales from land, sea and air – a narrative device that works effectively, switching constantly from one perspective to the other, showing how all three elements interleave in this critical moment. But the ‘moment’ itself is presented in virtual isolation and in one dimension: the collapse of France, Nazi Germany triumphant, England alone and on her knees, are barely suggested. From the point of view of the combatants and survivors, one accepts, it is the immediacy of the present, and present survival that matters, but the wider consequence is a film that has neither a deeper sense of tragedy and salvation, nor a real humanity. Ultimately, alas, ‘Dunkirk’ is simply war as spectacle.

Director: Christopher Nolan

Verdict: Seeing is not always believing. But see it anyway.

Your tipple of choice? Rum, of course – for the Navy

Hillfold Pottery, Midlands Meander

You reach Lindsay Scott’s Hillfold Pottery in Lidgetton in the Natal Midlands by following a dirt road into the hills, climbing through forest, then turning off down a narrow rutted track that makes you wonder why, oh why, do you no longer have the Landy, until suddenly the woodland opens and you are in a sunny clearing where a low bungalow awaits, and the studio beckons.

The man himself was there, reserved but gracious, and while he might have been of few words the work spoke volumes. We bought a piece for ourselves, and one or two smaller pieces for gifts, and I took a few photos.

If you love ceramics, and you’re visiting the Midlands, be sure to pay a visit to Hillfold.

Photos were taken with the Nikon D500, 10-24mm lens.

Midlands Meander

The Midlands Meander in KwaZulu Natal – well, meanders, criss-crossing the N3 that links Johannesburg to Durban, offering the traveller a network of scenic routes that winds through hills and valleys as it folds into its embrace potteries and chocolatiers, breweries and cheese-makers, leather workers and artists. It is the land of dairy – and, along a nondescript stretch of the old Johannesburg road, beside the railway line not far from Howick, the area where Mandela was captured, in August 1962, following a tip-off, it is believed, from the CIA – those friends of democracy everywhere.

These images, I hope, stand on their own, but they are also an entree to the blogs and photos that will follow: The Road to Ardmore takes us to the wildly imaginative ceramics of – you guessed it – Ardmore, Abingdon Estate is home to one of KZN’s few – and best – wineries, St John’s in Nottingham Road is a construction that was shipped out from Scotland in the late nineteenth century and assembled in situ, Dairy Country (the only colour photo in this collection) is dairy country and the Mandela Capture Site – well, speaks for itself.

Not such good bird photos

Bird photography is one of the most challenging areas of photography, at least in my experience. Finding them in the first place – birds, I mean – and getting them to sit still, or hover in one place, just where you want them, is the damnedest business, never mind getting your images sharp and properly saturated.

Nevertheless, we spent one idyllic morning between two bird hides on a farm in the Karkloof, hoping to see cranes, but seeing instead grey herons, spoonbills, ibis, and – away in the distance, perched on the topmost branches of a tree before launching into the air currents, a jackal buzzard.

Here are some not-so-good images.

The Natal Midlands: Two Gates and a Landscape

Two sets of gates on Beverley Farm, in the Dargle Valley; two interpretations. The one gothic, the other more bucolic.

The landscape shows the Karkloof, where we spent a lovely morning hiding in bird hides, on a farm, hoping for cranes.

Karkloof # 1.jpg

Trees, Beverley Farm, Dargle Valley

We left Johannesburg on the last Saturday in July, around ten o’clock, for a much-needed break – five nights in the Natal Midlands, followed by three nights in the Drakensberg.

The traffic was light, the day was sunny, the wind was at our backs as we drove across the highveld, stopping at Harrismith for lunch, before descending the escarpment. We turned off the N3 near Howick, not far from Pietermaritzburg, passing the Mandela capture site, of which more in a future post. A short while later we turned off the old Joburg road, the R104, towards the Dargle Valley, and in a moment were enfolded by hills and fields, the road turning and climbing like a roller coaster. Down one precipitous incline and over the Umgeni River – just a stream at this point on its journey – and onto a dirt road that climbed again into the wooded hills. Around a sharp corner, and there rising above us were the gates to Beverley Farm, and our cottage.

Beverley Farm, Midlands # 1This tree stood at the edge of the homestead, overlooking the valley. As the sun began to set, a sharp diagonal of light cut across it, with the hills in the distance. I grabbed my camera.

Thinking to myself, I want to shoot this again, using a tripod, I took note of the time. It was 5.15. And yet, though I returned to the spot each evening that followed, the light was never the same. There must have been a particular break in the clouds, that first evening, that was never repeated. The moral of the story: when you see the shot, take it.

I like this next shot too, though. The light is not dramatic, or golden, but to my eye there is an almost spiritual calm and tranquillity, a sense of stasis, that works well in black and white. And yes, this shot and the shots that follow, were taken using a tripod.Beverley Farm, Midlands # 2

Beverley Farm, Midlands # 3

The last shot, of a line of trees, faces into the setting sun; while I can imagine it as a silhouette, I think it works best in colour.

Beverley Farm, Midlands # 4.jpg


Lunch with my mother

My mother, at 85, likes a good lunch, and likes to be spoiled. Cucina Labia, the official home of Count Labia, envoy to South Africa of the little Italian dictator, Mussolini (Trump’s clownish forebear) ticked all the boxes when we went there – appropriately enough – on Women’s Day, last Wednesday.

‘I like this. I like this. I can do this,’ my mum kept repeating.

Here are two photos of her – still pretty sharp, I’d say, at her age. The photo of the ladies doing lunch, at a Women’s Day fundraiser, helps establish the scene and the ambience.

The weather, incidentally, was perfect – warm and brilliant, with that piercing Cape sunlight – until, as we left around 3 or 3.30, the clouds came pouring over the mountain.

We drove around Hout Bay and Camps Bay, one of those familiar routines, and I stopped above Llandudno to capture the seascape.


Master Thomas B. Tjasink, Esq.

We are back from our week away in the Natal Midlands and the Drakensberg – got home last weekend, in fact. I have since been down in Cape Town on business, and because Wednesday was a holiday, was able to take my mom out to a rather fabulous lunch at Cucina Labia in Muizenberg, the former residence of Mussolini’s envoy to South Africa and now a place of faded grandeur and fine cuisine. So there are tales to be told and photos to be processed and displayed.

First call goes, however, to the grandchildren – in this case, Master Thomas B. Tjasink, Esq., who kindly posed for the camera before we left on holiday.

The images, for those of you who are interested in these things, were all taken with the Nikon D500, 35mm f1.8 lens, and processed in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro.

Parkmore Field Market

It’s becoming a meme, I guess, at least of this blog – the notion that Joburg, and South Africa, is a study in contradictions. Creativity and enterprise flourish, the place is dynamic and happening – but it is also a dead-end of fraud and corruption, crime and incompetence. There is warmth, love, vibrancy in human interactions, across race, creed and class – and there is sullenness, indifference, even hatred. The glass is half full, and at the same time half empty.

You get the idea.

One of the creativity, love, enterprise happenings happens once a month, on the second Saturday, just down the road from us: the Parkmore Field Market, at Field and Study. It’s an odd, and oddly pleasing little neck of the woods, a stream or creek flowing alongside William Nicol, one of Joburg’s major arteries, with trees, open fields, stables and a paddock or whatever they call it for show-jumping. If you walk there on the weekend, as we did, you are likely to see small children being led on horseback across the field and down to the water.

This being Joburg, of course, what you also see, on the opposite bank of the stream, is a scattering of rough shelters, plastic sheets spread over branches, homes to the unemployed and homeless.

The Field Market, on the other hand, is a homely treasure trove of jams and pickles, olives, handmade soaps, craft beers, clothing, jewellery, art work.

Here are some photos.

A birth and a birthday

Thanks to all of the family, friends and colleagues who have sent me birthday wishes today – as the years fly by ever faster, and my sins of omission and commission as well as my many unexpected blessings loom ever larger in my imagination, I appreciate more each time around what it means to be remembered. Thank you indeed.

The real news though is not my┬ábirthday – this is a movie we’ve seen more than once before, after all – but the birth, on July 26th, of my third grandson, Gabriel Michael Fisher, to Hayley and Jonathan, in London UK. Cute as a button, he has brought joy already to his parents and grandparents and many others beside. Long may this continue.

Since we are speaking of birthdays, I’ve decided to do a reset on mine, in honour of the grandchildren: this year will be treated as year zero, and next year, along with Gabriel and Thomas (but not Josh, who is the senior among us) I will turn one.

So, when they ask me one day, how old are you, grandad, I shall say, I’m just as old as you are. That should confuse the little buggers completely. I can just imagine the laughter and consternation, the protests, the confusion.

At my age, it’s cunning, not strength, that keeps you ahead.