Monday, December 31, 2012

Jump And The Net Will Come

New Years Eve eh?  I enjoy the opportunity that it provides to catch up with friends and make an occasion out of something, but actually I'm much more into New Years Day; starting off a fresh new lap of the sun by doing something fun.  I try to aim to start as I mean to go on, rather than rolling over the start line of January 1st feeling rotten.  

And resolutions...  why now, why midnight tonight?  Why not just decide to do something and get on with it, or making a change when you it occurs to you that you want or need to, rather than waiting for the same day as everybody else.  But resolutions are useful things.  Timely reminders to set the wheels in motion, or a good deadline to take a leap.  
Recently, I found myself juggling so many half-baked, hare-brained projects and silly ideas that I had to sit down and write SMART targets for all of them.  I really needed to prioritise them and set deadlines to give me even a half a chance of achieving just a couple of them, elsewise they'd all be left wallowing  on to-do lists covered in doodles and the brown circles of countless cups of tea.  I needed to check that each project was "Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound" to stop me from going off on tangents or focusing all of my energies on things that really aren't of very much use at all, whilst neglecting more important or achievable projects.  But perhaps the most important thing is just to get on and DO things, rather than just thinking about them (check out this great short picture-book by David Hieatt if you need a bit of help getting started doing).  And that is what New Years Eve is good for.  Tonight, you're standing with your toes curled over the edge.  When the clock strikes midnight, resolve yourself to achieve something this year then lean forward and push off.  In the words of my over-achieving friend Tom, "Jump and the net will come".

Have a great New Years, and a really happy and productive 2013.  I hope you've enjoyed another 52 weeks of gumpf and will stick with An Tor Orth An Mor for the next lap of the sun.  See you out there.  Mat

Image above:  25' down, 4' deep, by Mat Arney.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Catcha Fire

Fire.  To me it ranks alongside, if not above, the ocean in terms of acting as nature's very own television set.  I can stare into a fire for hours and that's not me being odd, that's something embedded in each and every one of us.  That's passed down from our cavemen ancestors.  It's in our DNA as human beings.
It's a couple of days after the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere so the days are starting to lengthen in their slow run-up to summer, even if it is barely perceptible.  But just because the worst of the darkness has passed, we're by no means out of the woods in terms of the cold.  As far as the cold goes, the worst is yet to come, and we'll still be lighting fires to keep warm for a few months yet.  But you don't stop lighting fires just because the sun comes out.  What do you think a barbecue is after all?  What do you gather around on summer evenings after a day on the beach?

In the words of the guys from the Best Made Company in the video featured below:

"The fire elicits a lot of different things, but the two things that come to mind are just conversation, and silence."

A fire can be the nucleus for storytelling, or the catalyst for quiet reflection, and often the same fire hosts both.  

Fancy a fire?  Here's a quick guide to generating some light and warmth, whether it be in the fireplace in your front room or out in the woods:

  • Start small and get bigger.  You need small, easily flammable material to start your fire off, such as scrunched up newspaper, thin twigs or wood shavings.  This'll catch light easily but burn out fast, but you're just using it to set fire to the thicker, longer burning stuff.  This chain goes from tinder to kindling right through to big logs.
  • Use seasoned logs at home (wood that's been left to "dry out" for at least a year) and dead wood in the outdoors, otherwise all of the energy goes into burning dampish wood and not into generating heat and light.  You'll just have a smokey, hissing and spitting fire that you have to lavish attention on for very little reward.
  • Allow air to flow around the flame as you grow you fire.  Don't suffocate it, fire needs to breathe too.
  • Lay your fire with tinder as it's base.  Kindling goes over the top of this, usually leant up around it in a teepee style, or cross hatched over the top.  Once the kindling has caught then you can add thicker split branches and logs in the same fashion, being careful not to collapse the structure.
  • Keep your blaze small and hot, to develop a "heart" of glowing embers.
  • If you want to cook over your fire then you're best off lashing three stout poles together into a tripod from which you can hang a pot.  Cook over your fire once it's died down to white-ish embers, just the same as with a barbecue.  Naked flame will just burn your food without cooking it through.
  • If you need your fire, then tend it carefully and don't let it die out.  It's much easier to keep your fire fed and alive than it is to go through the whole process of lighting it again.
  • Splitting logs and chopping kindling is way easier with a good, sharp, axe.  But mind your fingers won't you.
  • Don't be an idiot with fire.  Keep a bit of healthy respect for nature.  If you're outside then try to build your fire where others have had campfires before, dig a shallow basin or surround your fire with rocks to avoid it spreading and don't build a fire if it's unnecessary or you're in an area at risk from wildfires.  

Rob awakening the embers still glowing from the previous night's fire.  I slept curled around this wood-burning stove trying to ward off the draught coming from their spare room nicknamed "Narnia" because of it's icy breeze.  This fire would be kept alive for days at a time, and keep the kettle permanently warm.

What the Tree Remembers, the Axe Forgets from Dark Rye on Vimeo.
Does this short webisode not just make you want to take a trip out to the woods for a few days?  It does me.

All images by Mat Arney.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


"Polzeath has to be the only wave in the world where going along it is actually worse than just going straight"

My housemate Benny and I were running down the beach out front of our house towards some distinctly ordinary looking waves when he hit me with this statement.  It's hard to disagree with him, but we still surf our local spot more often than either of us would care to admit, regardless.

Polzeath is a big old expanse of flat sand, fed by sediment flowing out of the mouth of the Camel estuary.  On Spring low tides it's just under half a mile from the top of the beach to the water's edge and the massive tidal range and constant flow of fine sand means that there are never really any discernible sand banks there.  At one point years ago a few of us hatched covert plans to hand out shovels to the young kids in the boardriders club to see if we could get them to dig a rip-bank and make good waves for at least one turn of the tide.  Waves seem to break sideways faster than they travel towards the shore and the wave faces are kind of fat and flat without much of a lip.  This embeds most local surfers with a front-foot heavy stance and an inclination towards running off down the line looking for a section to hit rather than going straight down and back up again.  A visiting Aussie friend of mine claimed that it was a bit like snowboarding, stating that you "just s-turn your way down the face until the thing stands up enough for you to tell whether or not it's a left or a right".
And it's usually busy.  Busy with other surfers, with tourists, swimmers and bodyboarders, legions of surf-schoolers and hordes of longboarders (and, now, more recently stand-up paddlers).  Easy access, a big beach, and nice soft waves.  In past summers the lifeguards used to split the beach in two by anchoring a buoy-line out past the mean low tide line.  When waves rolled through the buoys used to lift the seaweedy green rope up out of the water like a trip wire, either catching people out or forcing a rapid cutback and kick-out from the more-aware.
But we all love our local.  Almost as much as we love to moan about it.  Sure, surfing at home usually makes for a bit of "upwards readjustment" any time you go on a surf trip, but it also makes for good paddlers.  You can't consistently surf the spot with one of the longest paddle outs in Europe and not develop a bit of shoulder stamina.  And almost every other surf spot is a pleasant change when we go up the hill and leave the village.  It makes for happy travellers, even if it's just round the corner to the next beach.

Hating your local surf spot?  You've gotta love it, one way or another.

Image:  Benny - out of season, loving hating on his local, and tearing into it just for good measure.  By Mat Arney.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Take 5: West Coast Cool

Chances are that nobody but my Dad will read this post all the way to the end, but if a few of you do and it gets into your ears, then it's been worthwhile posting.
It's a shame how sometimes it takes the passing of a great artist in order for their work to be thrust back into the view of mainstream audiences.  Dave Brubeck passed away a few days ago, on December 5th, one day before his 92nd birthday.  He was a jazz pianist and composer, a figurehead of the "west coast cool" scene and considered to be one of the foremost proponents of "progressive jazz".

Through my late teenage years, in my Dad's house dinner times were often announced by the sound of a cork popping from a bottle of wine and a jazz cd starting up.  It was never something that I paid a great deal of attention to; the music wasn't there to be listened to intently (as with most modern 3 minute thirty second songs) but more of a background layer, a decoration, something that you could dip in and out of as and when you pleased.  Over time I absorbed a lot of classic albums, and have a healthy respect for jazz as an art form.  I grew up playing the drums; jazz is difficult beyond words, it is another level of musicianship that just ties knots in my "4/4" trained brain.

Brubeck led the charge of West Coast Californian jazz musicians in the 1950's, helping to sign musicians such as Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan to Fantasy Records before then moving onto the Columbia label.  His life didn't feature any of the headline grabbing tragedy that characterised the biographies of many of his contemporaries who suffered under the needle and the bottle, it was simply driven by musical curiosity and a strong work ethic.  Take a listen to "Take Five" in the video above, and if you dig, then dig a little deeper.   

Image: Mat Arney.

Marcus Shelby, performing with his trio at Pearls, San Francisco, December 2007.  
Image: Mat Arney.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2.8 Litres of Muscle

Talk about a photoshoot that's been a long time coming.  This is my friend Dave's Ford Capri; 2.8 litres of fuel injected-fury that his twin brother Mike restored back in the winter of 2008.  I've mentioned Dave and his mean motor on here before (The Car Whisperers), and have been hanging out for over a year now since that last shoot for us to get the thing sideways with the tyres screaming in front of my camera.  The problem was that just after the last shoot that we did, on his way to a classic car show, some moron managed to reverse their camper van along the entire length of the passenger door and rear wing in a pitiful attempt at reverse parking.  The Capri spent the spring and summer having it's near-side panels knocked out and resprayed to restore it to it's former glory, and is now back on the road....and up for sale.  Dave's selling his pride and joy to fund his motorsport project, so a couple of weekends ago I agreed to take some photographs for advertising purposes if we also got to have some fun with the car.  You can't have a massive muscle car with a bulge on the bonnet (to accomodate the huge engine) and which looks like it should be in a 1970's cop-car chase, and not want to wheel-spin away from a standing start.  Every single time.    

We headed up to a nearby disused airfield on a damp Sunday afternoon and opened the Capri up for a few goes along the runway, and Dave pushed the rear-wheel drive Ford hard around a few corners.

Kicking up some spray exiting a fast corner

Dab of oppo' at the end of the runway

I don't think my car's ever seen a chamois leather, but then my car doesn't look like it belongs in a 1970's detective film.

The Capri is for sale on carandclassic and pistonheads, click through to view the adverts if you're in the market for a styling set of wheels.  It's one well looked after car and needs a home as good as the one that it's leaving.