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Posted on 2nd April, 2012

Visiting Butlins and heritage steam railways.

Using Lidl for photo printing.


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Faraway thoughts, at Taunton, SomersetNot doing much re photography lately, and still havn't got back into either the Guardian Camera Club, or Twitter yet. Even so, I did manage a visit to the St Patrick's Day event in London on 18th March, and a decent place it is too for people pics. The Irish are always willing to be a bit extrovert, and when relaxed by a few pints of the only decent beer that's not real ale (Guinness of course), they're even better subjects. And that's just the women! No, seriously, there were plenty of characterful faces, both male and female, who were more than willing to offer the chance of a great pic. So much so that I rate the event, based on visits in 2011 and 2012, to be one of the best for that purpose. If only I could take full advantage of these opportunities, and not screw up so often!


In comparison to St Patrick's Day, I've decided that the Chinese New Year celebrations in London's West End are not worth the effort. Perhaps I missed something in 2011, but I found few opportunities to grab people shots. In fact, my strongest memory was not of anything photographic, but of the difficulty and discomfort in trying to move around in the dense crowds: the event is a crush or stampede accident waiting to happen I would say. In late January as it turned out, I was too engrossed in preparing for my India trip anyway, but even if I hadn't been, I would have given 2012, the year of the dragon celebration, a very wide berth.


One other thing I've done recently is to spend a few days at the grossly-undervalued Butlins. We try to get there a couple of times a year, using it mainly (not surprisingly I hope) as a dinner, bed and breakfast base rather than as the centre of our activities. This recent week at Minehead couldn't have been better timed as a recuperation from my painful month in India: the weather was absolutely perfect, and it allowed us the chance to visit Taunton and Barnstaple, and take a trip on the West Somerset Railway.


Although I regard the Butlin's visits more as a true break rather than a photo expedition, I do take my camera, and was rewarded I think whilst in Taunton. Passing a pub, there were several real characters sitting outside in the warm sun enjoying their pints, and I couldn't resist asking for a pic or two. No problem for several of them, although one gent was particularly keen to avoid the spotlight. Anyway, I feel that I got at least one decent pic of each of the volunteers, so they were the icing on a very relaxing day. Although I didn't get any pics in Barnstaple, I did discover the SOL secondhand charity bookshop, which is a gem that puts many Oxfam bookshops to shame.


The West Somerset Railway is a wonderful line to ride on, behind steam engines that have been lovingly-restored, and with the beautiful scenery of the Quantock Hills on the southern stretch. We usually ride the train to Stogumber or Crowcombe Heathfield, then walk the few miles between the two stations before getting the train back to Minehead. It was Crowcombe to Stogumber on this occasion, although I think we'll go for circular walks near those two stations on any future visits.


The Butlin's trips also allow us to pop into places of interest on the journey itself. En route to Skegness last spring for instance, we visited an exhibition at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham, by famous Indian photographer Raghu Rai. More often though, it's a secondhand bookshop, a preserved steam railway, or just a town / city. On this occasion it was firstly the town of Devizes, and then the East Somerset Railway at Cranmore. Devizes is the home of Wadworth Brewery, with the last master cooper in England, and one of the few breweries in the UK to still deliver some of its beers by horse-drawn dray. Unfortunately, we didn't see the drays, and didn't have enough time to visit the brewery either, but, there's always a next time I trust. The visit to the East Somerset Railway was equally rushed, so, knowing little more than it existed, it was more to find out about it's status than anything else. It was pleasing to find therefore that the line, founded by renowned artist David Shepherd, is more established than I expected, and defintely keeping its head above water.


The return journey to the soul-less town of Milton Keynes depressed me as usual, but was relieved for a short while by another heritage-railway visit, this time to the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (GWR), at Toddington. This line has suffered more than its fair share of knock-backs, with land-slips (including the latest at 'Chicken Curve' near Winchcombe) diverting funds away from its planned extension to Broadway. As on all preserved railways though, dedicated and loyal volunteers continue to drive progress and keep our industrial heritage alive. And one of those volunteers I'm pleased to say, was happy for me to photograph her. Frances, who works hard with her husband maintaining GWR's gardens, let me take several pics that I hope to choose from for an entry to the railway's photographic comp that runs until September 30th. At least in the case of the GWR, the valuable work of Frances and her colleagues has been recognised, as it won the 2011 Ian Allen Publishing Heritage Railway of the Year award, presented by Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman David Wootton.


Anyway, now back 'home' (until I can get away from Milton Keynes permanently that is), and found that the enlargements I'd ordered from Lidl were awaiting collection at the postal sorting office. As expected, they've done a top-notch job with the not-too-good source material of mine, and there's one now proudly hanging on our living / dining-room wall, alongside two from Steve McCurry. Not in the same league as McC I must quickly add, but I'm sure he'll get there one day. (Yes, I AM joking).


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