How we suffer for our art. What looks like a lovely scene can have all sorts of less pleasant stuff going on around and about it. A multitude of smelly sins are hidden behind our photos. We have had dead sheep beside the tripod as well as seals, dogfish, seabirds and a porpoise. All well past their please-bury-me date. A couple of the beaches that produce colourful and serene shots also produce a foul smelling green algae caused by run-off from nearby fields. It comes in two forms; one which is an obvious green trail down the beach to the sea which is easily avoided, the other is a where the sand looks not quite the right colour, a little bit off. This is where the stream of green goo has gone underground and turned the sand into quicksand. So when you are in a hurry and not being as aware or careful as you should be you suddenly sink shin deep into a sandy blancmange, a fetid, gritty and unedifying angel delight causing your footwear and trousers to reek terribly.
The dead and enormously swollen sheep right behind me when I was taking this shot was making funny little gurgling and squeaking noises.
After storms most beaches have a thick slippery layer of seaweed covering them. Not only is the seaweed not photogenic but on warm days it stinks appallingly and is full of nasty big flies that swarm up in angry clouds with every careful step through the slimy, leathery and rancidly foul smelling, brown, aquatic compost. The chances of a pratfall are high and the consequences disgusting. As with the sandy blancmange you will reek terribly.
Crossing, fields, crofts or indeed any open, flat and seemingly hazard free piece of ground can be fraught with peril. you have to be aware of the colour of the grass. A particularly vivid bright patch of grass is the indicator that below lurks something moist and smelly. The grass is greener due to it having a lot more water to hand, or root, than the parched yellow shoots around it. Consequiently when you walk on it you sink with a sudden, splashy squelch. If you are unlucky and unprepared, which you undoubtedly are (If you had been at all prepared you wouldn’t have trod there in the first place), you pitch forward and your arms sink into the goo up to your elbows – if you are really unlucky, your arms sink further with the resultant face in mud result. All the camera equipment that you’re carrying over your shoulder and on your back also rockets forward and cracks you a painful blow or two on the back of the head. If you are really unfortunate this is the point you notice that the soft and very wet ground is due to an overflowing septic tank. As with the sandy blancmange and the gooey seaweed you end up reeking terribly. The added bonus is you are soaked as well, possibly in well matured human waste.
It is a good thing that photography is usually a solitary pursuit. There are so many ways to look, or indeed to smell, stupid. Falling over whilst clambering over rocks which is always fun for the onlooker as usually in an attempt to protect the camera and ancillary equipment I take most of the impact on myself, I don’t know why I do that as the camera is better insured than I am. I start with wind-milling arms and legs like a cartoon character on ice in an attempt to retain balance (but definitely not poise) followed by some utterly uncool dance moves to regain sure footing. Whilst taking part in my other favourite method of falling an onlooker will witness me suddenly disappear between some rocks only to bounce back into sight just as suddenly. It may seem to the onlooker that they must have blinked and I moved slightly. There certainly wasn’t enough time for me to fall in a self sacrificing manner to cushion my camera from a crunching contact with some unyielding and barnacle encrusted jaggy rocks. I certainly didn’t pop up like an enormous meercat scanning the horizon for observers. That would give away that I have fallen in an embarrassing way. If I think I was unobserved I then crumple in pain yelling unprintable, unintelligible and fevered oaths while rubbing battered limbs. If I think I was seen I carefully make my way out of sight before commencing some unprintable, unintelligible and fevered swearing while rubbing battered limbs.
The gentle lapping shore of Westport Beach
Around the Scottish coast the phenomenon of the 7th wave is all too common. Every so often there comes a wave totally out of proportion to the rest. Standing close to the shoreline whilst looking through a viewfinder and not noticing the rogue wave heading for you results in suddenly being underwater to the knees. The same goes with standing on rocks during a storm but with greater dampness and since the big storms usually occur in winter added hypothermia. There is also the far more serious danger of being swept out to sea. Hasn’t happened yet, but it has been close once or twice. On more than one occasion I have decided that it is getting a bit dicey as the waves slap, crunch and spray around the rocky outcrop I am standing on with increasing vigour and enthusiasm. With the wind becoming determined to blow me over with a deafening roar I have headed off for safety of the car only to hear and sometimes feel a resounding crash behind me moments later. I turn and see the rocks where I had so recently stood under a great cascade of water which would have engulfed me and taken me under. Who is the patron saint of photographers and maybe I should pay more attention to whoever it is.
(Actually it is Saint Veronica. it seems that when Christ fell on his way to the Golgotha, a woman wiped his face with a towel and an image of Christ remained on the towel. This woman was Veronica. This incident is all we really know about her, and the relic, her holy face cloth, has become her symbol ever since. There you go, we have a patron saint. We have to share her with laundry workers though. How do we do that, do we get her on even days and the laundry workers on odd days? In Roman times laundry workers spent a considerable amount of their time collecting human urine which they would use in the washing process. That’s a bit unedifying. Then again I have to consider some of the stuff I may have stepped or fallen in….)