17 November 2014

RIP Lyndhurst Park Hotel

The news was made public today that Lyndhurst Park Hotel will close its doors in January 2015.

This news makes me sad, as I've probably spent more time in the hotel over the last 2-3 years than anyone who wasn't employed there.

Since the beginning of 2012 the hotel has been the unofficial home of my Photo Experience Days business.  At some point nearly everyone who has been on a PED has visited the hotel with me, and hence it's become a place, despite its many quirks that I've grown to love.

At times the service has been awful, but over the last few months since the change of ownership and a shiny new manager things have improved hugely.  The renovations had started, and I was told would continue in 2015.  Things were looking rather positive for the old place.

Now it would seem that the new owners, St James's Hotel Group perhaps only wanted the hotel for the land it stood on, and not as a going concern.  The plans for the site seem rather uninspiring, which is a shame because it had so much potential to be one of the prime hotel locations in the New Forest.   The owners have also recently announced plans to sell off Southampton Park Hotel as well, so I imagine that'll also be redeveloped as well.

Over the years I've helped bring alot of people / business into the hotel.  I helped bring a well known business breakfast networking group to the hotel, as well as bringing what I'm guessing must be around 3000 budding photographers through over the last three years through running my Photo Days there.

I've enjoyed hundreds of cups of tea there, nearly as many bacon & cheese toasties, made friends with many of the staff, and even got myself a wedding to shoot next year for one of their ex-employees. 

On a sunny summers afternoon, there is no better place in Lyndhurst than sitting in the garden, chilling the day away.

Hopefully I'll be able to plan a PED meet up for January before the doors close for the final time.  Check the PED website for a date.

My thoughts are currently with the staff who work there, and I'm very much hoping they land on their feet.  Sylwia, Sue and Paul, that means you!  Thank you again for looking after me so well on my birthday in September!

Lyndhurst Park Hotel, aka Fawlty Towers.  You will be missed by many!

Please leave any comments you have about your memories of the hotel below....!

18 October 2014

Inside Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station

A few weeks before I was due to take my second Photo Experience Days group to Kiev / Chernobyl the tour company messaged me to ask if perhaps we'd like to do something in addition to what we currently had planned, namely to go inside of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station.

We jumped at the opportunity.  An opportunity apparently still quite rare outside of the world of scientists & diplomats.

Security was as you'd expect and hope quite tight, with airport style body scanners at the main entrance, and several card / code activated entry gates along the way.

We had to wear protective hats and plastic slippers over our shoes.  I'm not really sure what they would protect us from.  A token gesture at most?

While we didn't see as much as I'd have liked, being able to go inside of control room number 2 (a duplicate of reactor number 4 control room) , and touching the wall now separating reactor number 3 from the destruction of reactor 4 really was a rather special experience.

Most of the pictures below are from the control room.  A couple are of the "golden corridor", the very long corridor that connected all 4 reactors back in the day.  Now obviously it stops at reactor 3.

The final three pictures are in order; a memorial to engineer Valery Khodemchuk whose body was never found after the disaster; the water pumping area for reactor number 3, and finally the new sarcophagus currently under construction.

A rather special experience indeed.

15 October 2014

Independance Square in Kiev

I made my first visit to Kiev in April 2014, just a few weeks after the troubles there.  The square was a mess, with barricades, encampments and memorials to the dead.

Returning just 6 months later I was surprised to see how much had changed, how much it had apparently got back to normal.  The traffic was flowing, the barricades had all gone, and everything was clean and shiny again.

The only reminders of the events of that winter were a display of photographs detailing how the square looked just 6 months earlier and a small memorial wall to those who died in the troubles.

Extreme Tourism in Kiev

On arrival into Kiev's Borispol airport we were greeted by our driver and within hour of wheels down we had arrived at the Statue of the Motherland where we were greeted by our tour guide Helen.

After what seemed like a rather heated conversation between Helen the manager of the statue and a particularly grumpy employee, who clearly wanted to go home (he was really rather vocal about it) we had permission to go to the very top of the 91 metre platform which would take us to the top of the arm.

A cramped four people and a very tight squeeze lift ride later and all 6 of us and an the now extremely grumpy non-English speaking climb guide had arrived at the base of the statue.

With the boys going first, the assent to the top started with a lift so small that we struggled to close the doors with four of us inside.

The remainder of the climb was interesting. By interesting I mean one little slip and we'd have fallen to our almost certain deaths. There was safety gear, but clearly that only gets used when our grumpy tour guide wasn't in a rush to go home. All we were given was a pair of gloves so old and smelly they were probably used during the construction of the statue 33 years ago.

The badly welded ladders took us up at all kinds of angles, until finally a tight bend and a manhole cover and we had reached the top of her left hand.

The view was rather good though.

After an even more terrifying can't really see where you are putting your feet descent, we arrived back back with the girls. Their turn while we slumped into the only three chairs in the enclosed room to recover and discuss our near death experience with each other.

Although the top viewing platform is very clearly advertised, we'd never have been able to do it without a native Ukrainian speaker to fight our side.

03 October 2014

After the Dawn?

Being fortunate enough to get tickets for both the opening and closing nights of Kate Bush's first concerts in 35 years makes me a very lucky man indeed.

Having seats just seven rows (in front of Grace Jones and David Gilmour) from the stage on the closing night was rather special indeed.

Meeting up with three of the musicians (David Rhodes, John Giblin and Omar Hakim) who make up part of Kate's awesome band made it so much more personal.  

The concert had a few visual tweaks since the opening night, with more thought given to the lighting during the first six songs. I'd been told by Rachel Z, jazz pianist and keyboardist for Peter Gabriel some years back that the band had got "exponentially better" since night one. I think that was probably only something that a musician would notice because to me both nights were rather incredible.

One thing I did notice during my second was the use of surround sound during the concert. I've never even acknowledged stereo at a live gig before (normally you are just hit by a wall of sound) so this was quite remarkable.

Kate was again on top form, and clearly enjoying herself. At the end of the concert she gave the smallest of hints that there might well be more live performances on the way.
Not having expectations of certain favourite songs being performed made the second half of the concert much more enjoyable to me. Things may have got a tad emotional during the final few songs, with the breathtaking Aerial and the spinning around with guitarist David Rhodes, followed by the sublime piano solo, Among Angels. With the crowd on it's feet and Cloudbusting being performed it was all over.

Driving back home took me past the Hammersmith Apollo at around 1am and the "Before the Dawn" signs had already been taken down.

Easily the best concert I've ever seen and probably the best concert I ever will see.

Now to sit back and wait for the DVD which was filmed over a couple of nights in September.

Thank you Kate.

I wonder what comes after the dawn?

Below is Rachel Z, Omar Hakim and myself meeting for "coffee".  Definitely not a "meh" moment!

09 September 2014

Wire Wool at Portland Bill

Playing with wire wool is fun, and doing so at Portland Bill is amazing.  It's a location that I love during the daytime, and I'm just starting to appreciate at night.  I've wanted to try doing wire wool at different locations for a long time, however its finding somewhere away from people, artificial light, and perhaps most importantly a location that isn't going to spontaneously combust upon spinning of said wire wool.

Portland Bill ticks all of those boxes.

Here are some of my favourites from a slightly rushed session.  I shall be doing this again for sure.  Just need to find someone brave / stupid enough to climb Pulpit Rock at night for me and spin the wire wool.

27 August 2014


The newspaper reviews have all been written, and from what I've read every single one is overwhelming positive.

I was lucky enough, with the help from a code via the official Kate Bush newsletter, to get two tickets for the opening night of her first gig in 35 years.  To call it a gig is understating things, it was a show, it was a spectacle, it was just stunning.

Before the show I was talking about what might be the opening song, and I remember saying prior that she should just go "balls out" and hit us with one of the big songs, Running or Hounds straight away.  Song two was Hounds of Love.

"I hope she can still sing" was a comment said to me by many in the months building up to the show.  Having listened to her more recent albums I knew she could, but I wasn't expecting the power in her voice.  Just brilliant.

The setlist was interesting, with the brave decision not to play anything from her first four albums. 
The show was split into two halves with Lily, Hounds of Love, Joanni, Running Up That Hill, Top of the City, King of the Mountain, And Dream of Sheep, Under Ice, Waking the Witch, Watching You Without Me, Jig of Life, Hello Earth, and The Morning Fog making up part one.  Part two was Prelude, Prologue, An Architect’s Dream, The Painter’s Link, Sunset, Aerial Tal, Somewhere in Between, Nocturn, Aerial, Among Angels and the finale Cloudbusting.

From the bits of tissue paper that were blasted at the audience were the words "'Wave after wave, each mightier than the last. Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep. And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged. Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame."

A week before the show Kate posted a short message on her website saying "We have purposefully chosen an intimate theatre setting rather than a large venue or stadium. It would mean a great deal to me if you would please refrain from taking photos or filming during the shows. I very much want to have contact with you as an audience, not with iphones, ipads or cameras. I know it's a lot to ask but it would allow us to all share in the experience together.".  Her polite request turned into the strictest "no photography" rule I've ever seen, with the staff jumping on anyone who dared point a mobile phone towards the stage. In reality people were probably too scared of being thrown out to risk getting a couple of crappy mobile phone photos, and very few people even tried.  Despite easily getting a small camera inside, the only photos I have are of the stage before, at the interval, and after.  I would have loved to have been photographing the performance.  So many amazing visuals.

The venue was the Hammersmith Apollo, a venue from the outside that looks rather "meh", but inside worked to perfection.  Kate, it seems, has many celebrity fans as on the way in I saw Dave Gilmour, Frank Skinner, Marc Almond and Del Palmer.  Others saw Michael Ball and Holly Johnson and apparently there were some b-listers like Lily Allen who I wouldn't have recognised if she was sitting next to me.

After what Kate announced was her final song, even with the houselights up the audience refused to move.  For over 5 minutes nearly everyone stood cheering and clapping.  It wasn't until the stage techs appeared to start turning things off that everyone got the message.  "Kate had left the stage!".

Awesome.  Just f**king awesome!

22 August 2014

Rewind Festival - Day 2

Both days of the festival had some great acts, but for me the Sunday just pipped it.

This is the first time I've used my Olympus Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system for a big live act job, and while I had high confidence they'd be well up to the job, I wasn't quite so sure about battery life with the heavy shooting demands and 2.5k images I ended up with.

As insurance I purchased a few spare batteries, and ended up with 12 in total. As it turns out I need not have worried. The dual battery configuration in the Olympus EM-1 lasted nearly the whole of day one, and might well have seen out the day if I hadn't swapped out the batteries for the final act just to be on the safe side. I think I got around 1400 images out of 2 batteries that day. Perhaps not quite as many as my old Canon DSLR system would have got, but plenty enough to cure me of my power anxiety issues!

As before just for fun, below is how long the photographers had to shoot each of the artists.

The South - 9 minutes
Howard Jones - 17 minutes
UB40 - 13 minutes
Boomtown Rats - 13 minutes
Hazel O'Connor - 5 minutes
Hugh Cornwell - 6 minutes
Flock of Seagulls - 4 minutes
Bonnie Tyler - 11 minutes
Roland Gift - 9 minutes
Jimmy Somerville - 10 minutes
Tony Hadley - 11 minutes
Tom Bailey - 15 minutes

With my being a big Thompson Twins fan back in the day, Tom Bailey was my favourite act. Although that said, Sir Bob Geldof and his Rats easily put on the best show of the day, even if I'm not so keen on their music. A proper rock star is that Sir Bob!