Sunday, July 22, 2012

Le Maillot Jaune

When I was 11 years old the Tour De France crossed the English Channel for a couple of stages and passed within 10 miles of my childhood home in the south of England.  It was sports day at my primary school and my Dad asked the Head Teacher if he could take me out of school for the morning to go and watch one of the biggest sporting events in the world pass our front door.  The Head Teacher said that school was more important and I wasn't to miss a day, so on the morning of sports day my Dad let me sleep in and woke me up telling me that I wasn't going to school that morning.  Legend.

This afternoon British cycling stepped to the front in a sport typically dominated by Continental European countries and made some bold statements.  Bradley Wiggins rode up the Champs Elysees  wearing the coveted Yellow Jersey that signifies the overall leader of this year's 2,173 mile Tour De France (the biggest annual sporting even in the world) and became the first British rider to win the event.  In second place came Chris Froome making a British one-two (the first time that countrymen have shared the two top spots since 1984), and to top that Mark Cavendish was the first over the line.  No cyclist has ever won the final day's stage in Paris more than once, and today's win made it four years in a row for Cavendish, the "Manx Missile".  There's only 6 days to go now until the Olympic cycling road race.  You'd be forgiven for presuming that the future's looking decidedly golden for British cycling.

The start of the Tour de France borrows from lifesaving races, with a 'nose-to-the-sand' lying start followed by a sprint to the first beer of the race, then the pile of bikes.  Under starter's orders. 

I don't have any photos of the Tour De France though.  The closest that I have were shot with a disposable camera at a bike race with a slightly different bent:  The Tour de Point.  The Tour de Point was (is?) an annual event for members of Trigg Point Boardriders Club (TPB) in Perth, Western Australia, and requires participants to complete a 5km odd circuit of the coastal suburb of Trigg with periodic beer stops.  Quite a few beer stops.  And the whole thing's a race, just like the Tour de France, with last year's winner wearing a yellow jersey.  Trigg Point Boardriders are one of the more notable West Australian boardriders clubs and the core crew of members are comprised of some of the standout surfers in Perth, with the club regularly winning events against their rivals from the slightly more wave-blessed neighbours down south.  But they have problems finding a member willing to put their name to the bank account into which they can deposit winner's cheques thanks to events such as the Tour de Point.

Stage 2. 

I was gifted a wildcard place in the 2006 Tour de Point along with another Brit transplant my old housemate Ref.  I lived with a couple of pillars of Trigg Point Boardriders and managed to borrow a bike for the event.  Not that your bike really matters, because by the second or third beer stop there's a fair chance that somebody else will have picked up your bike in their rush to set off again, or you'll do the same and set off on somebody else's steed.  Once it's all done and dusted and after 5km of sprint-pedalling and skulling beer you cross the line back at the Point, with most competitors "blowing warmies" (frothy beer burps, bleurghh), the winner has to down another beer or five from the trophy and then everyone have a crack at riding their bikes down the sand dune and into the sea.  In 2006 my housemate Scott was the only person who managed it; on somebody else's (probably now saltwater corroded) bike.

Seven empty cans for the winner, and another one on the way.

In 2006 my friend Scooper retained the yellow jersey that he had held on to for several years previously.  This needs special mention, because whilst the riders in the Tour de France can lay claim to being some of the most incredible athletes on the planet (endurance or otherwise), and that's just the 'domestique' team riders, I bet most of them would struggle to down a can of beer faster than it could be poured on the floor.  Scooper is a man of considerable athletic prowess proven through years of open water swimming and paddling at a competitive level, however his ability to down beer is the talent that gave him a competitive edge that no man could best through his years dominating the Tour de Point.

A couple of evenings later and it's all back to normal at Trigg Point:  a few boys paddling around looking for a wave, and a few more sipping sun-downers looking at waves.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Splash of Colour

Why don't we paint our houses like we paint beach huts?  Multi-coloured in Muizenberg, South Africa. 

Colour.  Now I love black and white photography; it's tonality, contrast and how the absence of colour draws your eye to different points of focus within an image.  But I'd hate it if I had no colour in my life.
A few years ago I returned to the UK from a few years living and working overseas.  I got back a couple of days before Christmas, pretty much bang on the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year.  By February I was sat in an opticians having somebody explain to me that my perceived deterioration in sight was actually down to the fact that my eyes had just got used to bright light and over-saturated colours in the tropics and were struggling to readjust to the low, flat, grey light of a British winter.  Relieved that my eyes weren't failing me, I made hasty plans to leave the country again and get some colour back on my retinas.

Those hard to miss flags that the lifeguards almost always stick right in front of the best peak. 

Colour is so important in our everyday lives:  Red means stop, green is environmentally friendly, blue for boys etc etc...  Colour can trigger feelings and emotions, sooth or agitate, persuade, attract, repel, suggest warmth or cold, keep us awake or send us to sleep.  Did you know that some police drunk tanks are painted pink to calm down violent prisoners?  Companies spend vast sums of money undertaking research into colour perception and reactivity to make sure that their product or logo is the one selected by consumers, and colours have distinct and important roles in the histories of cultures and religions.

Aladdin's Cave, lanterns hang from a shop roof, Dubai.

The Asian Subcontinent is one colourful place, local women wearing saris to the beach, Sri Lanka.

The way we see it, sunlight is colourless.  But cast your mind back to your science lessons at school, and that lesson about rainbows and the colour spectrum.  White light contains the full spectrum of colours as seen in a rainbow when that white light is refracted through water droplets.  Our eyes and brain see the colour that an object reflects, so a red apple absorbs all of the other colours of the spectrum and reflects the red light rays which our eyes receive and our brain processes.

Take a quick look around you and appreciate all of the colour in your life with fresh eyes.

A double rainbow over Tower 24, just before a massive storm.  Mermaid Beach, Gold Coast, Australia.

My friend Scotty is one colourful character, in his sartorial choices as well as all the others that he makes.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Much Better Now

Surfing and books.  Two of my favourite things but so much greater than the sum of their parts in this web-short from Portuguese studio Salon Alpin.  

This inspirational five and a half minutes will lift your spirits and remind you of the wonderful world that opens up before you whenever you find something that you love.  Just imagine being this little bookmark; doesn't it remind you of how you felt when you realised that there was a big wide world beyond your local beach and that you could surf ALL OVER it.  Kind of like losing yourself in a good book and, upon finishing, looking up to find yourself in a library full of them.  Deep joy.

Post Script:
Massive props to Joe Leach who beached his kayak yesterday evening on Swanpool Beach in Falmouth, arriving from the North having set out and turned South 67 days ago.  Joe just completed the fastest ever solo unsupported circumnavigation of the British Isles, smashing the world record by 5 days which is huge.  Along the way Joe raised a load of money for Surfers Against Sewage, grew a solid beard and also picked up three pieces of marine litter every day.  Read a blog post that I published about him a few weeks ago, read his blog and donate because it's not too late.  Massive congratulations Joe.

Joe's girlfriend Jess welcoming him home after 67 days at sea. Image by Ben Spicer of Cornish Rock Tors.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A War Within. Living with PTSD.

This week I'm going a little bit "off message" and shifting the focus away from sunny happy surfy stuff, to a much darker, more serious and important issue; that of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

My friend James Allen has just aced his degree in Press and Editorial Photography at University College Falmouth and his final year project has been picked up and shared by a number of top end photography journals, websites and was exhibited in London last week.    James decided to tackle the difficult subject of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which required him to build relationships with sufferers over long periods of time before they were comfortable being photographed and interviewed.  His subjects ranged from former soldiers to victims of domestic violence or people involved in tragic and unforgettable accidents.  Before I pass the baton to James's images and captions, I'll finish on one key statistic that struck me from his work:  More British veterans of the Falklands War and First Gulf War committed suicide than were killed in action.  That's not the Second Gulf War.  Just consider that for a moment then click through to James' website to view the full set of images and accompanying text which explains the issue far more succinctly than it's possible for me to here.

"This body of work aims to empower my subjects, giving them a voice and educating the viewer, thereby reducing the stigma associated with this mental health issue. The images are captioned by text extracted from my interviews so as to allow the viewer to hear their voices, to sense their anger and despair, but also feel hope and new life."

James Allen, June 2012

 “The imagery of Iraq that bombarded my mind was so detailed that I could paint scenes from my mind. I knew the colour of cars, the height of buildings. I could smell the dead people we had shot. I could see the bodies and the thick congealed blood on the floor. It was like a fish had been gutted. I could see the dead Iraqi soldiers, their eyes staring at me, and I was powerless in my dreams to fight back any threat. I was in such a helpless state.”

 “I attempted to commit suicide. My wife found me with a 9mm Glock in my mouth. I was paranoid - I kept arms and ammunition at home and built up a big Arsenal. It wasn’t a fun place to be really, but the culmination of it was that I tried to kill me self. My wife walked through the door as I was about to do the honours. Her face basically stopped me.”

 “I can’t begin to tell you how many soldiers I’ve worked with that have lost everything - wives, partners and even the rights to see their children. Without a doubt, the hardest part of my journey was losing my family. It wasn’t until I lost them I realised I had a serious problem and had to ask for help.”

 “It’s PTSD; you live with something that happened twenty years ago - you still cry about it. You can’t stop, because you’re still not over it. You’re not allowed the space to, because you’re not allowed to talk about it. Even with therapists you start talking about the gory details and they cover their mouths with shock. They’re anxious because they don’t want to hear the really horrid bits. I was seventeen when I went to the doctors to tell him that I’d been raped. He just patted me on the head. It’s shocking.”

“ I think there’s a problem with PTSD because its become a word synonymous with soldiers. People don’t understand that it might be in the domestic sphere as well. It’s the day you realise your totally out of control and that’s the case the next day and the day after that. It’s a repeated pattern; you can’t make yourself or your family safe. And you won’t be safe next year, and at some point you acknowledge that you’re going to be killed, and I don’t know where you go from there. Once you believe that your going to die I don’t know how you can ever believe in anything different. As a consequence I can’t change my behaviour, in that respect it’s probably very similar to a soldier in a war zone because you are scared your going to be killed today. Its fear, I’m just fearful, they used to call it battered wife syndrome.”

 “It was when I was fourteen years old - there was an accident in the back garden involving some petrol near a barbeque. It caught fire and because it was next to my little sister I tried to prevent an accident and threw the bottle away from her ... it ended up hitting a little lad who caught fire from the flames of the petrol. So I chased after him to get him on the ground and roll him around to stop the flames spreading any more ... I jumped on top of him and rolled him around to put out the flames.”

“At first I was depressed because people were blaming me, saying it was my fault - that I’d done it on purpose. I started to experience flashbacks about it - I felt like I was reliving the moment over and over again, seeing certain things. Flames can set me off on a flashback. Just being asleep in the middle of the night I feel like I am reliving it; I can smell the flesh burning and I feel like I’m burning up myself. I see pictures in my mind of what happened.”