Okay, it might not be a Mark Rothko precisely, though I’m not exactly a fan of such “art”, this is my mild attempt at something more than my traditional wildlife photography. Unconsciously, my photography seems to have changed over the last few years and trips to Africa. Instead of the close up portraits, the staple diet of a 600mm lens, I’ve enlarging the canvas upon which I work to include the subject’s environment, and more recently as can be seen with today’s image, the subject of the photo isn’t really the subject at all! With such minimalism, I might well be carrying a roll of black insulating tape to try fuse nature with piet mondrians’ style… you’ve been warned!
I know, you’re a good looking bird Mr Crowned Crane… such a looker… and I know like to photograph anything that moves (or stays still), breathes (or doesn’t breathe), or even just thinks (or doesn’t in my case).. however this time, just this one time, we weren’t really interested in you.. Don’t take it personally… as I said, on any other day, in any other place, I’m sure you would have been centre of attention but you can’t really blame us photographers… you were upstaged you see. It’s really not your fault but when there’s a big puddy tat nearby (actually, you should take that as a warning) what do you expect us to do? Yes, I said a puddy tat.. in your vicinity… actually about 100m behind you (oh yes it is.. this isn’t a pantomime you know… oh, okay,you’ve read previous blogs… so perhaps it is)… a sleek.. streamline killing machine… in the long grass… behind you. Rather than being concerned which is your best side to be snapped… perhaps you should consider which side you don’t wanted those jaws to snap around. Oh you’re in luck, there’s some bigger prey for that hungry looking speed machine to concentrate on.
December already? Not only does that mean I need to start getting on with my Christmas Shopping but it’s the beginning of the end. December 31st will be my final daily blog, having written each day for two years, though I will probably continue a weekly update providing I have something interesting to say (“that’ll be a first”, Ed.). I like to think I’ve developed as a writer, over these two years, and it’s certainly given me a new string to my bow, I now have to find a target to aim for, let’s hope I can hit the bullseye!
Despite the fact that the much discussed 200-400mm lens hasn’t found it’s way out to the shops, there’s talk that the integrated teleconverter – a first for a Canon lens – may well be finding it way into a number of new and existing lenses. Of course, this will only add to my list of grumbles, as it’s bound to affect the final price, in fact that’s probably why the lenses have been delayed whilst the executives can think up some imaginative new prices.
Returning to the bar at half time, the excited chitter-chatter of the amassed crowd are as one in their disbelief of the score. Admittedly all the points scored so far have been from penalties but they’ve not been lucky kicks, England have played determinedly giving away very few errors, let’s hope they keep applying the same sort of pressure in the second half and we could have interesting scoreline on our hands.
We take our seats and wonder whether it’s possible to hold our breaths for the remaining 40 minutes of the match, such is the tension and excitement at being 12-0 up going into the second half, holding our breaths in case we breathe too hard and burst the bubble that has us all on the edge of our seats. We needed be too concerned, within one minute of play, England are awarded a penalty after New Zealand collapse the scrum, and happy just to get more points on the board, we cheer as the ball sails cleanly through the posts to take us 15 point ahead of the opposition, who have yet to get off the mark.
WIth the incredible pace of the game, it doesn’t take long for New Zealand to respond, 5 minutes in fact, and having been awarded a penalty they decide to kick to touch rather than get 3 relatively easy points on the board being only five meters from England’s try line. Within seconds, it seems, the All Blacks are over the line but the agony is prolonged whilst the Referee consults the Video Ref (Football, are you taking note!) to confirm that the player did indeed place the ball. Seconds seem to last like hours whilst we await confirmation, but score they did and with a clean conversion New Zealand are back in the game, 15-7.. Oh lummy!
Spurred on, New Zealand apply the pressure and suddenly the action is taking place in England’s half and despite England meeting them headlong, within another five minutes the opposition are back across the English try line taking the score to a nail biting 15-14.
There are mutterings of concern around the stadium at this sudden turn of events, only twelve minutes into the second half and now New Zealand are within one point of England, that comfortable margin having evaporated. The incredible pace of the game doesn’t leave us too long to ponder our fate as two minutes later sees some incredible play down the wing from England’s Barritt and Tuilagi giving England their first try of the game. We take our five points but the extra two aren’t added as Farrell’s clean sheet is marred when the ball bounces off the crossbar, still we’re 20-14 up and the fat lady isn’t waiting in the wings just yet.
Unbelievable, this can’t be happening – only ninety seconds later sees Chris Ashton return to form as he swallow-dives across the line for another English try… we’re now 25-14 ahead, I certainly didn’t envisage this on my way to the match.
Ten minutes pass, the game incredibly physical, and just when it looks like New Zealand are going to make a run for our try line, Tuilagi intercepts the ball and powers across the line unchallenged, none of us quite believing how well England are play, least of all the All Blacks.
With the score now at 32-14 (let’s just reflect on that for a second, 32-14.. sounds good doesn’t it), New Zealand are now the ones on a back foot and the pressure shows, within minutes they’ve conceded another penalty which takes us 21 points clear – three converted tries in other words. The score doesn’t, as you can imagine Dear Reader, remain stationary for very long, after 9 minutes of battling, England are awarded another chance to get points on the board, Burns steps up to take the kick which he successfully kicks, taking England to 35-14.
Five minutes from the end, England’s Vunipola is given the yellow card for trying to halt a New Zealand quick tap, and is sent to the sin bin for his statutory ten minutes time out.. well, we won’t see him again. Down to 14 men, and despite there being little time left, this could be dangerous for England, and sure enough New Zealand are quick to capitalise with a converted try and the lead is reduced to only 17 points but we now have only three minutes left.
New Zealand have the bit between their collective teeth now and keep applying the pressure in England’s half. Ninety seconds, and the ball is approaching England’s try line. Twenty seconds, we all hold our breath. Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six – in unison, the crowd are counting down wishing time would speed up – five, four, three, two, one. We have to wait for the ball to go out of play before we can start to celebrate but we now know there’s no way New Zealand can win. The Ref blows his whistle to signify the end of the match and the stadium erupts, none of us quite believing what we’ve just witnessed. The first win over the All Blacks since 2003, the margin having broken a record set in 1936 when England beat them 13-0. Astounding.. I’m going to need another drink to steady my nerves (but I don’t when I see the queues!)
The players are all standing in line, arms around each others shoulders, and we all stand for each countries national anthems; few know the words for the New Zealand anthem, and with few nationals having been able to make the long journey it’s only the amplified voice of the performer down on the pitch that echoes around the stadium. This is in stark contrast to the playing of the English national anthem, God Save The Queen, which almost takes what little covers there are above the stadium right off as the crowd gets behind the performer centre stage. With such rituals over with, there’s just one more left before kickoff; the All Blacks assemble near the halfway line where they take up position to perform their war chant, the Hakka, which is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. It seems to have the opposite effect however, the crowd in unison start to sing and “Swing Low” drowns out the war words of the opposition.
New Zealand win the toss, and with their first kick, the game begins. We’re on the edge of our seats and for the first fifteen minutes the score remains level at zero a piece but then the All Blacks are awarded a penalty which is within kicking distance of the English posts, o-oh, this could break the spell. Amazingly, the kicker misses and we all breath a sigh of relief… there’s still a chance and ten minutes later, after an offside infringement by one of the All Blacks player England have their first chance at getting some points on the board. The ball travels straight and true giving England three points, the first of the game, we’re taken first blood!
Before we have chance to reveal in the scoreline, it’s the opposition who are awarded a penalty which they decide to kick for goal and amazingly, again, they miss which leaves us still ahead albeit by the slightest of margins. The battle continues and after another five minutes we’re awarded another penalty after New Zealand hang on to the ball, which Owen Farrell effortlessly kicks for another three points, we’re 6-0 up.
With only three minutes left of the first half, the referee indicates that England have a penalty but allows play to continue so that before we know it, the ball sails over the posts from a drop goal, we’re now 9-0 up. That has to be enough excitement for the first half, but no, with only five seconds to go until the whistle blows we’re awarded another penalty and with the ball safely slotted between the two posts England are, amazingly, 12-0 in front. Blimey I need a drink!
It would appear, once onboard the train from Waterloo to Twickenham that all 80,000 fans have tried to crush themselves into our carriage alone. The talk, needless to say, is of the impending match, though there’s an air of reservation about England’s final match, having been paired up against the mighty All Blacks and might, in this instance, isn’t too strong a word. This team has remained unbeaten over 20 test matches, in fact the last time England beat the New Zealand team was in 2003 and then by only the narrowest of margins.
After what seems an age, especially in such a confined space, we arrive at Twickenham railway station, and as the door on the carriage retract we spill out onto the platform grateful for the cold fresh air that hits us after the stuffiness of the train. The crowd snakes along the concourse, up over bridges and down roads, like rainforest ants on the march, our goal the imposing concrete edifice that is rugby unions’ National Stadium. Enterprising locals have set up stalls along where we’re walking, selling all manner of comestibles whose scents waft across the great throng tempting the hungry in. The misgivings about our opponents seem to fall away the closer we get to the stadium and bonhomme seems to be suffusing out everyone creating an atmosphere that Russ Abbot could only sing about.
After taking out a mortgage to pay for a pint of beer, it’s time to take our seats and as the impressive pyrotechnics explode, the players take to the pitch… this is going to be exciting.. I can feel it in my bones.
The gauge on the car dashboard reads zero as we head off for the station, a thick frost on the car in agreement with the cars temperature equipment. Wrapped up warm, I’m amazed I have to queue in a long line with other travellers all heading out early. The line moves fast and I’m soon up on the station, a hot coffee purchased to try and thaw out my cockles let alone warm them and only a short wait for the London bound train. Amazingly, there are passengers waiting alongside who are also enjoying a beverage, however there’s less milk or coffee I’m their drink of choice, in fact there isn’t any but there is water, fermented sugars, hops all wrapped up in an aluminium can. They have stronger constitutions than me.. or possibly a different outlook on life!
The train, powered by electricity supplied by a third rail, glides along despite the uneven track and were soon amongst the outer suburbs of the great metropolis of these fair isles (not to confused with fairisle, I wouldn’t want you jumpering to any conclusions!). Standing in the vestibule area I am a little concerned that the shoes I bought recently will not provide sufficient thermal insulation, as my feet are already cold… And I hate having cold feet.
We pass a park, a bulldog marching in front of its owner a frisbee held firmly in its jaw like some form of trophy. The buildings are increasing in height, the neatly trimmed gardens of detached houses having been replaced by carparks for the flats adjacent to the line.
And now the famous landmarks are becoming visible, first the by tower in the distance and the we pass battersea power station whose iconic chimneys were made globally recognisable by Pink Floyd. The landmarks are passing thick and fast, MI5 s headquarters having been amazingly restored after James bonds recent adventures. The brakes on the train engage and squeal like a lone banshee on a cold desolate night and the train comes to a standstill adjacent to platform 12 of Waterloo Station and we all pour out onto the concourse – a quick drink before it’s time to head off to Twickenham, and however excited everyone appears to have been so far, it’s nothing to the palpable exuberance within the packed tube train. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow for my match report!
So one anticlimax leads on to another anticipation.. which in turn could lead to more disappointment.. though I don’t think so. After the rather damp squib of yesterday’s band announcements for next year’s Reading Festival, tomorrow promises to be much more exciting… I’m taking the train into London to watch England attempt to beat the might New Zealand All Blacks in the Autumn Internationals. Of course, I’m not expecting the English Rugby Union team to actually win in light of who they’re playing – it’s more the occasion that I’m looking forward to.. I’ve even tried to learn the words to the Hakka, the traditional Maori war chant they perform before just prior to kick off.
It’ll all be par for the course, of course, as all the teams I’ve favoured of late seem to be in the descence. The local football team, promoted into the Premiership this season currently languish second from the bottom of the table, as are the local premiership rugby who I’ve followed for many year, latterly half heartedly. Thinking about it, the same thing happened at the various events we attended during the summer Olympics… perhaps I should try some reverse psychology and try support the other team… can’t lose that way!
* The tenth line from the Hakka which translates as “This is the hairy man”
I’m not referring, of course, to the retired Cricket Umpire but to a certain winter migratory bird who seems to be avoiding the county in which I live. Including all the outlying areas, there are 48 counties that constitutes this Sceptred Isle; imagine my consternation that Waxwings, certainly one of the most charismatic of winter migrants, have made an appearance in all but 4 counties, a small percentage I think you’ll agree, Dear Reader, but a small percentage that includes Berkshire. Sure, we have more than our fair share of Red Kites, Buzzards, Little Egrets and Egyptian Geese.. but I wanted to photograph Waxwings this year, to finally get some images of these birds that I’d be pleased with. Mind you, casting a glance around the garden, I can see exactly why the birds have stayed away, the blackthorn, hollies and hazel are not the usual well stocked larder that tempts the wildlife into the garden.. in fact there’s not a single berry on the holly trees around the perimeter of our land.
Changing subject, you know how sometimes the preamble, the waiting, the buildup can be better than the actual event? Well, after mentioning how excited I was about the early announcement for the 2013 Reading Festival I was completely underwhelmed by the acts announced…. I’ve seen 2 out of the 3 named, one of which I would contemplate seeing again. Deftones, a Californian metal band that came to prominence alongside the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, will be playing on the main stage again where I’ve seen them a number of times already.. usually because they were the only alternative at a specific time slot. The quirky Alt-J have been upgraded this year, having completely packed out the smaller Festival Republic tent this year, they’re moving over to the absolutely huge NME tent, such is their popularity… and rightly so, they’re offer a real alternative to all the formulaic supposedly alternative music, with heavy bass driven tunes, fragile introspective vocals, and the occasional kids toy piano providing the catchy melodies – I’ll certainly be heading over for their set in their new territory.. unless, of course, there’s an even more compelling act on at one of the other stages.