Friday, 22 July 2016

Dunmow Flitch Trials 2016

Saturday 9th July 2016 once again saw the ancient Flitch Trials take place in Great Dunmow, Essex. Held every leap year, five couples or 'the claimants' (who have to have been married for a year and a day) are put to trial in an attempt to determine that they have "not wisht themselves unmarried again" during that year and a day. If successful, the couples are awarded a flitch - a whole side of bacon.

The evidence is put to a jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors, with counsel for both the claimants and the flitch, whilst the proceedings are overseen by the Flitch Judge. Once awarded, the couples are paraded through the town on the Flitch chair before taking the Flitch Oath whilst kneeling on the 'sharp stones'

This was the first time I had covered the Flitch Trials and I was hoping that I would be able to enjoy the whole evening, from the back of the marquee where the press were allowed, without being interrupted by the vibrating buzz of my phone in my pocket. You see, I was expecting news, and at least from the back, I would be able to slip away easily if I needed...but more of that later.
Do scroll down through the pictures to see if I did indeed make it through to the end of the evening.

The sharp stones await successful couples

The Flitch Chair carried through the town by the 'simple folk'

The 'simple folk' who carry both the Flitch and the Flitch Chair
are distinguished by their traditional country smocks.

The Flitch is paraded through the town of
Great Dunmow in Essex

The Flitch Trial court beginning the evening session

The jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors are sworn in

Counsel for the claimants...
...and counsel for the Flitch

In his first year as Flitch Judge, lawyer and radio presenter Dave Monk provided interludes of quips, wit,
and variable expressions.

First couple for the night were Mr Mohammed Mizan Sabur and Ms Emma Marcus who were questioned about their desire for bacon even with their (non-practising) Muslim and Jewish origins.

Once the foreman for the jury had been teased by counsel for the claimants, for his Orville impression, he was allowed to deliver the verdict...

...a majority verdict that the couple should be awarded a flitch...

...the judge became a little confused as to what sentence he was passing!

Second couple for the night were...but where was his wife?

On the counsel bench! This created a bit of a dilemma

Until retired judge, Michael Chapman stepped up into the vacant role, whilst proudly showing-off his tie covered in pigs!

Couple, Dr and Mrs Parkes (aka Caroline Bradley for the counsel) discussed how on their skiing trips, that she had twice been transported down the mountain in a body bag.


A majority verdict was reached that they too should be awarded a flitch.

Now all that remained was for the triumphant couples to be carried back through the town by the 'simple folk'

Then to swear the Flitch Oath whilst kneeling on the 'sharp stones'

So, until 2020 when more couples will put the strength of their marriage to the test, in public...

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A Racy Ladies' Night

Ladies' Night... the races, that was how I spent my 'annual significant day' this year - how lovely and happy it was too. Nothing to spoil it, just a super time with some great friendly people.

Now this is the point where I'm supposed to reveal my knowledge of horse racing, This is also the point where I will hold my hands up and say, I know nothing! All I know is that I have enjoyed a couple of similar race events, courtesy of the same kind host. So this now being my third experience, you would have thought I might have got to know how things work when it comes to placing a bet, right?
Wrong! I know nothing! It is still like a secret code.

I'm not a betting person but our host had kindly bought a Tote ticket for all the ladies present - seeing as it was Ladies' Night and I thought it would be a shame to waste it. But what to choose? I knew there are bets to win, and each way bets, so I wisely decided to split the stake over three races. Recalling my first ever horse racing bet a few years previous, I had selected 'Dudley Docker' purely because of the name - and it came in as the winner. Beginners luck! Employing the same formula seemed like a good idea so I looked down the race card, with No 6 'The Tailgater' running in the first race appealing to me. The second race had just four runners and I thought my odds for picking the winner would be good (what do I know?), until someone pointed out that the odds on each horse were very poor and I should skip to the third race, where I chose No 5 'Put The Boot In' and finishing off the last of my bets on No 3 'Occasionally Yours' in the fifth race.

Winner of the 5.25 - The Tailgater

The 5.25 at Huntingdon got under way, racegoers watching on the big screen until the group of horses came into view at the far corner, then jumping two hurdles before coming alongside the grandstand where I swiftly trained my camera on No 6. This wasn't the sprint for the finish but was useful for panning practise, and the horses went round again. Now in the final furlong, my lens was once again trained on No 6, the five way image stabilisation in my Olympus E-M5ii coming into play as I tried to contain my excitement when I watched 'The Tailgater' completely contradict his name by coming in first, at the front.

My first win of the night! Call this win Birthday luck!

I had high hopes for race three with 'Put The Boot In' but sadly I ended up turning my attentions to watching the crowd as No 5 came tailgating in at the back of the pack.

Race five - The 7.30 and 'Occasionally Yours' seemed to be emanating from the tannoy with reassuring regularity and as the horses passed the grandstand for the first time, the lovely bay gelding was comfortably placed just back from the front position.

Down to the final furlong now, and the female jockey was inching 'Occasionally Yours' ahead of 'Rolling Dough'...

Winner of the 7.30 - Occasionally Yours

Striding for the finish and No 3 went over the line in first place, providing me with my second win of the evening. Hooray!

Time to wander off and to take a look around the parade enclosure, and collect my winnings. It is actually enough to buy myself a replacement bottle of my favourite perfume - I guess you could say it is indirectly a birthday gift from our host - Thank you Alan!

In the paddock, a pensive Sean Quinlan, a champion hunt jockey, was waiting for the start of The 8.00, the penultimate race of the evening.

Back alongside the rails, punters eagerly watched the race on the big screen in the now chill air of the evening, and just as the race came to its climax, the sun reappeared as if someone had switched on the stage lights, subtly back-lighting the runners as they galloped by.

The day and the evening had also galloped by, and with just one last race to round off the evening, this little mite couldn't quite stay awake to the end.

Our grateful thanks to Alan Woods at AJW Distribution  for a splendid evening.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Reportage Roundup - April

The last few weeks have been hectic to say the least!
So much so I've barely had a moment to keep the blog up to date, so apologies for a series of holding pages coming up and that will be completed as soon as I can.

For now enjoy a jolly shot of the BFG from the Manuden Scarecrow Trail back in April.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Butter Wouldn't Melt...

Over the years, many of you have come to know Mutt - my trusty photographer-assistant and to look at her now you would think butter wouldn't melt.

Sadly, the old girl is now nearing 15 years old, and with it has come traits that one would expect from a puppy. The long and the short of it is, she has a form of doggy-dementia. She has started bin dipping (ugh!), redistributing the contents of the recycling box and recently, she was caught stealing a sandwich from the work surface in our dog-sitters kitchen - oh the shame of it! She has never done this in the 14 years she has been part of our family, just as she has never run into the main road when walking her on The Common...until last week. Now that was a heart-stopping moment! However, one of the things she has always done is, if we leave her for a spell, she would find something of human ownership, often a slipper, and carry it off to her bed - her little den. This was quite an endearing trait of hers, although on one occasion it was himselfs phone, and another, his wallet, both manageably moved and yet both undamaged. On both occasions there were some perplexed expletives as to who had moved them?

Mutt asleep next to my camera bag - so tired after her little escapade!

Roll on to this morning and I had had to leave her downstairs whilst I carried out some tasks upstairs for about an hour. On returning to my study, I found mutt happily asleep on her rug which is snugly situated between my desk and the radiator. I noticed she had chosen to make a pillow from my lovely leather and canvas Olympus camera bag, which also happened to be temporarily next to my desk. I jokingly passed comment to her that it surely couldn't be very comfortable (Yes, we do talk to our dog!!) and I thought nothing more of it.

Time had now come for me to sit back at my desk to tackle the edit from the theatrical shoot I'd had in London yesterday, firstly loading the few hundred images off the memory card from my Olympus E-M10, then the memory card from the Olympus E-M5ii...wait! Where was my E-M5ii?!! It wasn't in my camera bag, where I thought it should be...maybe I was suffering temporary dementia? Had I left it on the kitchen table? As I walked into the kitchen my heart sank. There, next to mutts little doggy-den was my E-M5ii + 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens - all 1.5kg (and £1.5k+) of it! Eeeek!!!

I had presence of mind to snap a pic of it to show himself later, as he probably wouldn't believe me if I told him, and then I swiftly scooped it up from the floor, checking it over for teeth marks - not one!! The only mark I could find was a scratch on one edge of the lens hood, consistent with it being dragged the 10 metres or so along a quarry-tiled floor. I can only assume she had carried it with the strap in her mouth (she does something similar with her own lead too). A quick switch on and everything appeared to be in order - thankfully.

All I can say is that Mutt the Assistant must also be delighted with the lightened load that the OM-D offers - I couldn't have seen her managing my DSLR equivalent in the same way!  Tomorrow I fly back to Ireland to host my last West Cork Photography Break of the spring season. Gone are the days of the whole of my hand luggage allowance being used up with my much larger DSLR kit. I will travel, as I often do, with just hand luggage. This will include all of my OM-D cameras and lenses, as it has done for the past year or so since switching kit.  My back is loving the much lightened load and the bag has room to spare.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

May Day Morris Dancing

This morning the alarm was set for before dawn, to ensure we arrived at Wandlebury, just outside Cambridge, in time to see the dawn Morris Dancing by the Devil's Dyke Morris Men on this May Day morning. The day when tradition has it to roll in the dewy grass, although today the dew was of the white crunch variety.

(This is the holding page to ensure a 1st May date on the blog post and whilst the rest of the edit is completed in between a full weekend of assignments. Do come back later for the full set of images)

Friday, 8 April 2016

Reportage Roundup - March

Saturday 19th March

Chris Baker - founder of B.R.A.V.E

March roared in like a lion with over 300 motorbikes joining 'The Bomb Run' charity ride from Coggeshall to Carver Barracks in Wimbish, to raise funds for B.R.A.V.E.  Bikers Respect All Veterans Equally
Chris Baker, a former Royal Engineer, who became paralysed after suffering injuries when his military vehicle was hit by an IED, founded the organisation which raises funds to be shared around various military charities.

The ride was led by Chris on his special Harley trike, and riders from all over the region roared onto the windswept airfield behind him for a group photograph in front of some of the military vehicles stationed at the barracks.

Give us a wave! Just some of the bikers for the group photograph.

The all-important charity patch, to sew onto the riders cut-offs.

Saturday 19th March

Follow the instructions for the treasure hunt.

By contrast, the gentle pastime of an Easter Treasure hunt, took place at Thaxted URC, where children were given a booklet of clues, to help their in search for letters hidden around the church. Once these had been collected and re-arranged to form an Easter greeting, families were invited to sit back and enjoy tea and cakes in the newly opened-up community space within the church.
View the gallery

Hunt the letters.

Cakes and organ pipes. The new community space opened up after removal of pews.

Saturday 26th March

Hunt the bunny - hiding in the pak choi bed.

Continuing in the treasure hunt theme, Saffron Walden County High School Farm Club held their open day on a cold and dreary Easter Eve. This didn't deter masses of families arriving for the indoor barn activities, in an attempt to dodge the unpredictable weather. Once again, clues were provided to guide the young visitors to the hiding bunnies.

All the usual farm animals were there for visitors to become acquainted with - Dexter cattle, goats, sheep, guinea pigs, ferrets...
There was some reserve when encountering this constantly wriggling mustelids but thankfully all children went home with all of their fingers, although the farm club crew-member had nicely scratched hands (and a smelly sweatshirt!) Despite their odorous faults, I do have rather a soft spot for ferrets myself.
View the gallery

"If I stroke it, will I keep my fingers?!"

Am I pretty or what?!

Monday 28th March

Sponsor a duck.

From furry wrigglers to yellow swimmers. Easter Monday brought the crowds out for the 1st Rayne Scouts annual duck race. These quackers, some of them veterans of many races, were assigned to hopeful custodians and over 1,000 ducks were released into a fast flowing River Brain. Storm Katie had just passed through and so the trailing wind helped to rush the bobbing bath-mates along to the finish in swift time, with the crowds keenly following on alongside the river bank.
View the gallery

Under starters orders. Over 1,000 yellow ducks waiting to float away.

Crossing the finish line - come in no.1000, you are the winner.

As March came in like a lion, so it had to go out like a lamb, and just to oblige, one of the four-week-old farm club lambs provided a cheeky baa!