Pied Avocet, Marievale

I like the harmony and balance, the silent concentration, in these photographs of pied avocets with their swooping bills wading in the waters at the Marievale Bird Sanctuary.

Time for a break, I thought, in the Spanish series…


Blacksmith Plover

From photographs of birds, taken during my recent field trip to the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, this blog will see a change of scene, to our travels in Spain – but only when we are back, Rob and I, towards the end of September, from Andalucia and Madrid.

Meanwhile here is one image – a blacksmith plover – to mark the spot, and signal a short hiatus in these posts.

Blacksmith Plover.jpg

Against the light

From the corner of the hide, you looked out across the water, directly into the light, where the coots were squabbling and giving chase, and I knew at once that this was an image made for black-and-white. I took several photographs, aware of how tricky the light was, and struggling with the heavy lens to keep the birds in frame. This one came out best.

Against the light

Joburg Water and the DA City Council

Our water is off again, in Parkmore – not, in this case, on this umpteenth occasion, for some dramatic, globally important reason such as drought or climate change, but simply because of an aging infrastructure, a lack of maintenance, the incapacity and incompetence and lack of responsiveness of local government….

Not, let me add, an ANC City Council – though the ANC’s record in local government has been almost uniformly disastrous – but a DA-led Council with a DA Mayor. The party, you know, that claims to know how to run a city.

Yeah, great. Thanks a million.

Travelling Light

First up: Do not panic! You have come to the right place. You have arrived at the blog known formerly as ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ It now goes under a new name, ‘Travelling Light,’ but it is the same, I assure you. Same web address, same blogger and photographer, same as ever.

So why, you might ask, the change of name, and the new slug-line? Why – you noticed this, didn’t you? – the new look or livery?

Those who have drunk the life-is-marketing Kool-Aid might be tempted, I guess, to see this as a ploy: ‘you are your own brand,’ and all that rubbish. Change the branding, change the persona.

But no, dear reader – I may be shallow, but I am not that shallow.

The reason, if I must supply one, goes deeper.

Mind you, part of it is simply the desire for a refresh, after a couple of years’ wandering the worldwide web in the same old clothes, so to speak. But the deeper bit, the more interesting bit, at least to me, has something to do with a shift in outlook.

For one thing, I’ve grown a bit tired of that pretend middle-aged curmudgeon, the alter-me who says cheerily, but with a rasp in his voice, and a flinty eye, and a tumbler of whisky clenched tight in his fist, ‘keep calm and carry on’ – as if the stage of life he has entered is The Battle of Britain, Their Finest Hour, and all that guff. He sounds like an old colonial colonel, that guy – he sounds like a cranky old white South African.

Which he is, which he is – but that is not all of him, nor who he wants to be. What he wants to be is someone who steps lightly on the planet, someone who has left behind the most burdensome of his baggage, who would like simply to be human.

All that ‘keep calm and carry on,’ of course, was supposed to be ironic – a stab at humour. But the irony was also a coded confession – of funk, I suspect. But as the years have moved on, so my mood has changed, and my temper. Rather than cling to the railing, I look forward to the journey.

One of the things that happens, I find, as I head past the middle sixties, with a nod and a wave, is that you start to shed stuff. The shops are no longer full of things you want and you need, they are full of things you don’t want and don’t need. The job is no longer a ladder to be climbed, a money-tree to be shaken, a substitute life for the life you wanted but have given up on having, it is the way you contribute. And your contribution is judicious, as you are conscious, always, that life is not be lived, or experienced, much less to be measured, by the hours you spend in meetings or airplanes or at a desk in an office.

So ‘Travelling Lightly’ is about losing the baggage, shedding the unnecessary. It is also, in this dangerous era of climate change denial and global warming, about treading lightly, as I have said, on this vulnerable planet – the only one we have, as if we need reminding (some of us do, apparently).

It is also about the light, itself – the light we see the world with, the light that photographers depend on, the light that illumines whatever it is that writers see in the human and material drama around us.

And perhaps, in a moment of rhetorical over-reach but also humility, it is about purification or cleansing: the flaking away of the husk, the biblical threshing, that reduces us to our essence until we are ready, finally, to step into the brightness.

Please Carry on Reading.



O joy, business travel

Business travel is fun, ne? Take Monday, for instance. Up at 4.30 in the morning, to drive to the airport (drive, because the blerrie Gautrain workers are on strike), attend two (good) meetings with the Western Cape government, go for a (very good) lunch at a brand new restaurant on Bree Street, then head back to the airport.

Only to find the traffic is crawling – reaching peaks, at times, of 4 to 6 km per hour. After an hour we have barely passed Groote Schuur Hospital. It is clear we are not going to make it in time for my flight (my colleagues are on a different flight, slightly later) so I phone the travel agent and change mine from 5 pm to 7. We get to the airport, dash inside, fly through security, and I get to the gate. Everyone has boarded, but the gate is still technically open. However, I cannot board because – go on, guess – I have changed my booking.

Ok. Deep breath. Look up at the screen showing upcoming flights. Scheize! My new flight is delayed 45 minutes, till quarter to eight.

Time to check in at the Slow Lounge, have a glass of wine, something to eat. Maybe a whisky.

It is after 8 when we climb onto the bus, after standing in line like bovines for 20 minutes, with no rhyme or explanation. When the bus gets to the plane, on the opposite side of the apron, the cleaners are still cleaning. So the bus doors remain closed, and we remain crushed together and standing.

We are on board, the doors are closed, and ready to push back. The captain comes on. Apologises for the delay – and informs us the starter motor at rear is not working, so they can’t start the engines. More precisely, they will use an external starter. No need to worry.

We are finally off into the cloudy night skies by about 8.40. I am home by 11.30.

Oh, and the reason for the long afternoon crawl out to the airport? Apart from the rain, which of course discombobulates everybody, there has been a taxi strike in Cape Town.

Much better to think of the art of making photographs. So here are two black and white images of my grandson, Tom, to distract you from the pleasures of traveling on business.

The strapline photo, of the geezer at the Slow Lounge window, overlooking the apron and the runway, was taken on my iPhone. He looks like I felt.

The Ale House

We headed out, last Sunday, Kathy and Tom and Rob and I, to the Magaliesberg, to our favourite bush-pub, the Ale House – only to find it had moved.

How does a bush pub move, one might ask? Very slowly?

Anyhow, we tracked the place down to its new home, on the road past Hartebeespoort, and settled under the trees for pizza and beer. And I took a few photos.

The setting could be the Karoo, or the Australian outback – it has the dry colours and warm dusty scents and infinite skies of somewhere old and archetypal, bleached of the modern. But I like these images in black and white.

There will be more to follow, most likely in colour, of Master Tom causing mayhem.


My 65th birthday today – how time flies!

I think I had been dreading the day, somehow, but when I woke, with Rob beside me, and light peeking through the gap in the bedroom curtain, a sudden thought possessed me, I don’t know why: that if there had not been Eileen, there would not be Kathy and Eve and Jono, and if there was no Kathy and Eve and Jono, there would be no Josh and Tom and Gabe. If there were not a Rob, I would not be as happy as I am now. Life moves in mysterious ways, and its gifts are not always obvious at first. And from there, I found myself thinking, every day is a gift. That should be my resolution, and philosophy, for the years I have left.

Today is the first gift.

Johannesburg Art Gallery – Seven Images

JAG – the Johannesburg Art Gallery – is, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a once-grand edifice, marooned like an old freighter on the manic reef of downtown Johannesburg. You enter (for free) through a turnstile, and as you do so, the last survivor of the shipwreck emerges from the wheelhouse beside the door, looks you over disinterestedly, and disappears again. The exhibition spaces are as vast and silent as empty cargo holds, the skylights and light fittings, rails and tubing, all that is left of a once-thrumming engine.

The miracle is that it keeps going at all – JAG, that is – and as we wander its halls, alone, others silently enter, and wander by, and exit again. Will they return? Will we? Or will JAG crumble, finally, into the crumbling city?

Here are seven images.