Thursday, 31 March 2016

A cheque arrives

As well as this blog, I am active on Flickr, the well-known photo-hosting site. My Blogger and Flickr accounts were both set up in February 2009 - seven years ago - and although both got off to a slow start, in the last three years or so both have taken off in the viewings department. Of course, the blog wouldn't have become as well-viewed as it has without my writing a lot of posts for it! And the same is true of Flickr. You absolutely do need to upload a lot of photos to make any impact.

Well, I have popped nearly 13,900 shots on Flickr over the last seven years. And so far there have been 1,096,000 viewings. Mostly from the general public. Any member of the public can view them. But I retain full copyright, so if anyone wants to use a picture for their own purposes, they must ask me for a licence. That said, Flickr is intended for amateurs. It makes a convenient showcase, and could be seen as a shop window; but I am not a shopkeeper touting for business. I use Flickr to share my life and travels, without any expectation of a monetary return.

Nevertheless commercial firms do look. As do tourist boards and museums and historical societies. Occasionally one of these will get in touch. If I think they represent a public service that merits my support, I almost always grant a free licence to use whatever shot or shots they wish to use on their website, or in their local printed literature. I do however ask for a name-credit against my shot. And that's nearly always readily agreed. Even an amateur should have due credit. Only one body (a UK tourist board) has ever refused me a mention as the photographer. I thought that mean, because I was certainly not requesting any payment for the use of my picture! I wouldn't grant them a licence. (I hope they subsequently reconsidered their policy in this area!)

On just two occasions so far the proposed usage has had such a 'commercial' flavour that I have felt justified in asking for a licence fee. There was the publicity firm who saw my 2014 pictures of Poundbury in Dorset, and wanted to use some of them as background shots in a brochure intended to sell properties there. We got as far as agreeing a modest fee per picture, but nothing more came of it. Then, recently, an advertising firm specialising in travel-industry clients got in touch, wanting to use a shot of mine to illustrate a 2016 coach tour brochure, the client being the Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company. Again, this was purely a commercial matter, and so we negotiated a licence fee. This time the proposal got signed off, and I got my my fee! The cheque arrived in today's post. It was for £35, the sum I'd asked for. This was the picture.

It's the pyramid-shaped tomb of Mad Jack Fuller in Brightling churchyard. I went there on a gloriously sunny afternoon in May last year - see my post The face of failure on 22 May 2015, which says more about the tomb and the other follies Jack Fuller constructed in and around Brightling. You can visit them all, and in fact make a coach tour of it!

Anyway, this is the shot that I was paid £35 to make use of. It is the sort of shot anyone with a camera could have taken. But I saw the picture and took it, and I went to the small trouble of putting it up on Flickr, and I have consequently made £35 from it. Which demonstrates that it's always worth paying attention to composition, and definitely worth having a showcase on the Internet!

The cheque has been banked. And I will pop the money in my savings account. Really, it's a windfall so far as I'm concerned. It's not income. If there are more licence-requests during the next twelve months, I will deal with them as I always have done. Potential users must respect my copyright and ask me for a licence. That done, and the usage explained, in many cases they will get their licence for free, and only have to give me a name-credit.

Still, what view might HMRC take? Is my £35 taxable?

It might be. If a casual receipt can be attached to a regular business, or even to a one-off venture conducted on business lines, then tax might well arise on any profit made. Well, I am not in business, and this is strictly a casual receipt, but there's no denying that my name is out there in public as a photographer, and (perhaps crucially) I did request a fee. And I conducted the negotiations in a cool and businesslike way. These things, taken together, rather suggest that - subject to any expenses I might be able to claim - the £35 would attract income tax.

On the other hand, the photo itself was just one of many taken that sunny afternoon entirely for my own personal enjoyment. I certainly didn't take the picture thinking 'this is a business shot, there's a profit to be made here, and it's going to earn me money if I publish it on Flickr'. No such profit-motive was there.

It's perhaps fortunate that this £35 is only a small amount of money, amply covered by whatever expenses might legitimately be set against it. In other words, if  HMRC enquired, we would end up agreeing to a net loss. Taxable then, but no tax in fact due. So I'm not going to waste their time by drawing it to their attention.

Very validating

Two creative endeavours have matured, one giving me great personal satisfaction, and the other actually producing a cheque which I have just banked.

The first creative endeavour is the rag rug of course, pushed to full completion two days ago. I'll do a separate post on the other thing. It will follow this one.

To briefly recap on the rug. I was a complete novice, but nevertheless boldly started the rug on 6th March, throwing about forty hours at it by 16th March. I took it away on holiday to finish it off. It was by then almost complete. There was just a little more to do. But annoyingly I ran out of fabric, and had to put it aside until my return from holiday a week ago. A little more fabric, and a few more hours, and it's now done.

I was so confident that I would polish it off at the start of my Cotswold holiday! Here is the rug being worked on in the caravan on the first night - I was using light blue cotton to fill in the sky in my design.

But it's amazing how much fabric you need, even to do a fairly small area. I'd misjudged it. My confidence turned to frustration when I ran out with two square inches on the edge remaining bare! Grrr.

Still, it was good enough to show to Angie when I met up with her. Here I am in the pub car park at Miserden, proudly brandishing the almost-finished rug, my left fingers concealing that bare patch:

Once home again, I quickly got on with the job - here's the last strip of light blue cotton going in:

Then I had to sew a rectangle of hessian over the untidy bottom side of the rug. I could have avoided this final task if I had woven the fabric strips onto the correct side of the rug in the first place, which was the same side as the hem. But I discovered my error too late to turn back. I ended up with this:

The rug's hem should have been invisible, indeed on the other side of the rug, entirely covered by the woven-in fabric strips. The back of the mat would then all be like the central part in the picture, showing a 'ghost' image of the design. No special backing would be necessary. As it was, I needed conceal the hem, which as you can see was fraying a bit.

Well, I had a rectangle of hessian already cut to size and hemmed, which simply needed to be sewn onto the back of the rug. Before doing that, I marked it with my name, and drew a 'Lucy-Lou' logo on it. I invented this on the spur of the moment. Lucy-Lou is the name my friend Jo in the village likes to call me by. The lettering for it resembles my handwriting (so no real strain on my powers of invention!), and, to give the logo more impact, I added a big red heart:

It's a bit optimistic, numbering my rag rugs, but I do expect to start another soon, and - who knows - may have completed three of them by the end of the year!

It struck me, after drawing the logo, that it bore a passing resemblance to the heart-with-writing-on-it that appeared at the beginning and end of the 1950s Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz TV comedy sitcom I Love Lucy (which I used to watch as a child):

Clearly my memories of that show had given me a subconscious nudging!

I hadn't actually sewn the backing on at that point. When I did, I didn't make an especially neat job of it. To my eye, my sewing looks crude:

But Jo and Sue assured me (this was last night) that the overall impression the rug made transcended any glaring lack of skill here and there. They thought it was a fabulous effort. I'm happy to take that verdict on trust! The next rug will be better-done anyway, because I have some experience now.

The last thing to do, as the rug will go up on my lounge wall as a kind of picture - with the same effect as an oil painting done impasto -  is to construct a simple wooden frame and fix the rug to it. But I'm not doing that just yet. I want to take it down to North Devon shortly, rolled-up for easy travel, to show to various people there - most definitely to Jayne, whose own rag rug efforts inspired me in the first place.

I am proud of what I've managed to produce here. Not so much proud of the rug itself - it's an unsubtle first attempt, and a bit amateurish really - but of how I kept at it, and finished the job. I never thought I had that in me. And, do you know, throughout the fifty-odd hours thrown at it, my interest in what I was creating never flagged. It was unexpectedly absorbing and interesting.

Here's some more shots of the finished product, and how it looks particularly good in sunlight:

In a strange way, doing things like this is very validating. I feel (to make a girl guiding/boy scouting analogy) that I've earned a 'badge of achievement' as a woman. My Mum would have pooh-poohed the very thought of my sticking at this and producing an attractive result. Well, I have. To be sure, making a rag rug is utterly straightforward - anyone can do it - and I'm not yet claiming any true aptitude at home crafts! But in the next week or so I will however be turning to knitting. I want to get on with a knitting project. Now that will be a challenge, and any success there will be something to crow about!

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Uffington White Horse

This post isn't just about the chalk-white prehistoric horse on the steep north face of the Wiltshire Downs. There's another, much more personal angle.

But let's begin with the second half of my recent adventure, a bid to see not only Wayland's Smithy (the subject of the last post) but its even more famous nearby companion, the Uffington White Horse, which seems to have inspired all the other white horses cut on grassy chalk hill faces everywhere - although this one, the original, is nothing like the later ones. Here are three aerial pictures of it, off the Internet, the third one showing Uffungton Castle hill fort:

The Horse (see is thought to be 2,500 to 3,000 years old - and therefore 2,000 years younger than Wayland's Smithy. The very abstracted design is really rather sophisticated. Although reduced to a set of thin disconnected lines, it's clearly a prancing or galloping animal, most obviously a horse, and to me it seems full of life and movement. I especially admire the curve of its neck, back and tail. The head is curiously unhorselike, with apparently a beak for mouthparts, but that's the only oddness. It was presumably made by landscaping the ground, digging into the turf to expose the white chalk rock beneath.

The builders must have had a definite plan to work to, in order to create this large but properly-proportioned hillside figure. I wonder how they managed it, because you can see the horse in all its glory only by getting up in the air. At ground level it entirely loses its overall shape because of foreshortening; and in any case you can only see a small part of the whole from any given spot. I approached the Horse on foot from the hill fort side, and this was my first view of it - part of the head:

If you didn't know it was the head, you'd be puzzled! I then walked downhill, along the neck to the tip of the tail. A National Trust ranger was cleaning-up the chalk parts (nobody else is allowed to tread on the chalk):

You can see how fiendishly hard it might have been to get the Horse looking right from a distance, while cutting the turf and exposing the chalk! The tail is really very thin, as the bottom shot shows - that's my trusty chestnut walking stick placed on the tail, to give an impression of scale. You can also see that the chalk isn't solid - it's rubble that can shift about and turn to powder. And yet it doesn't seem to become a white sludge when it rains.

So how did the builders do it? How did they check the realisation of their design without an overall view, just as we nowadays see it from the air? How was the Horse made to seem recognisable to the people coming from afar to visit the site? Nobody could get airborne. The slope here is gentle, and so the view from the vale below is very oblique. Still, a flat-topped hill close by, called Dragon Hill, may have been the Official Viewing Platform for any ceremonies connected with this chalk animal. Here is the hill, as seen from the Horse. I reckon that if the top of the hill is so visible, they must have been able to get a half-decent view of the horse from it:

Feeling puffed, I wasn't inclined to trek all the way down there and back to find out! Instead, I tried to get some good shots of the Horse's legs and the head. But this wasn't easy. They don't look like legs in these pictures, do they, although the head is perhaps easier to make out.

There are of course plenty of legends associated with the Horse. One quaint old rhyme goes as follows:

If any man on White Horse Hill 
Shows disrespect to the ancient beast,
That man shall know the horse's will
And he, anon, shall be deceased.
The horse will cry,
And he will die,
Struck by a thunderbolt from the sky.

Such are quaint folk rhymes! But then - would you believe it? - just as I set forth back to the car park, a piercing shriek like a neigh rent the air, and a fiery comet-like thing whizzed down from the boiling sky:

Crumbs! Someone must have dropped a crisp packet! Well, it just goes to show that you must tread carefully where these prehistoric monuments are concerned. I'm glad now that I didn't do anything chancy or liberty-taking at Wayland's Smithy - such as squatting to have a sneak pee - because (and it's clearly a definite risk) that might have provoked an angry response from whatever guardian spirit haunts these ancient places.

Back at Fiona, I got my boots off and slumped gratefully into the driving seat. It had turned cold and windy, my gouty toe was complaining, and I was feeling tired - as this photo shows:

Once home, and thinking about this post, I remembered that in 2007 I'd seen a picture of the Uffington White Horse in a public exhibition, but not in this country. It was in a place on the far side of the world. next to Lake Wanaka on South Island, New Zealand:

How very, very strange! In fact it was something of a homesickness-trigger. At that point, M--- and I had been campervanning around NZ for over three weeks, and were in fact only two days away from our first definitive conversation about how nice it would be to see all the familiar things in Sussex again. We were missing the English springtime - soft rain and bluebells, for instance - even though we were still enjoying sunny NZ as an exotic experience, and indeed had another month of it to come.

The exhibition was just outside the town of Wanaka, and was showing the ecological photographs of Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

The exhibition was the best thing to see in busy, touristy Wanaka. Nor was the lake all that wonderful.

However, M--- thought it worth plenty of shots. She's on the right in the hat, talking to a local woman with a dog:

We both agreed that nearby Lake Hawea, where we'd pitched the day before, was much more spectacularly photogenic:

That's our hired Maui campervan above, which was only a basic touring vehicle and lacked the comforts of our Elddis caravan back home (which I continue to use to this day for my caravanning holidays). We grew to dislike the Maui campervan rather heartily. Still, it got us to all sorts of memorable places!

Back to Yann Arthus-Bertrand's photos. They had been published in an expensive book called The Earth From The Air that I had seen new in bookshops, but didn't buy because the price (£42 in the mid-2000s) was far too much. But M--- tracked down a good-condition second-hand copy for my 60th birthday in 2012. It was a significant gift, but nevertheless an unexpected gesture to make, as by then we were estranged. And yet clearly M--- (although not indicating in any way that she wanted a rapprochement) had gone to a lot of trouble, writing and inserting a bitter-sweet poem for me, and in particular pasting in a dedication that spoke of Water Dragons and Wood Monkeys (our supposedly very-compatible signs in Chinese Astrology - and, as it happened, 2012 was actually The Year of the Dragon), with a beautifully-drawn picture of a Chinese Dragon:

I was impressed, although I didn't know what to make of it, considering that M--- and I were in a stand-off position. And have remained so, without any move whatever towards a workable truce. The book and its message (and all the other gifts M--- had already sent my way) remains a possible reason for friendlier contact in the future, although as time passes a reconciliation seems ever more unlikely to happen. Fate will no doubt take a hand at some point, as we do after all both live in the same village, even if we only very rarely glimpse each other.

You know, I think the sinuous dragon M--- drew somehow bears a passing resemblance to the galloping Uffington White Horse. Or am I being way too fanciful? It certainly reminds me of the dragon in the 1958 Rupert Bear annual! (M--- loved Rupert, and much admired the artwork of a famous past illustrator, Alfred Bestall)

Horses, thunderbolts, ecology, lakes, dragons, and Rupert Bear. I'm not good at keeping to one subject, am I?

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Wayland's Smithy

I do have a penchant for visiting prehistoric sites! On one afternoon while away I visited two famous sites on the Wiltshire Downs east of Swindon - not actually in the Cotswolds, but easily reached from them. The first was Wayland's Smithy, which is an ancient chambered long barrow with big toothlike stones at its entrance. It took its present form about 5,500 years ago.

It was an easy a walk of one and a half miles to get to it, along the Ridgeway (itself an ancient track). Wayland's Smithy is in a lonely spot up on a rise, and originally wouldn't have been half-hidden by trees, but exposed to view for miles around. It could certainly have been seen from one of the other prehistoric features in the vicinity, Uffington Castle (an ancient hilltop fort nearly 3,000 years old). Here's the fort:

Close to Uffington Castle is the internationally-known Uffington White Horse - which I shall leave to the next post - and most people who leave their car in the National Trust car park down the hill make straight for the Horse. I don't suppose many casual visitors attempt to do both the Smithy and the Horse on the same day, because they are in opposite directions along the Ridgeway. But there is always someone who will. You know, a keen photographic type such as myself.

Wayland was a legendary smith (see famous for his skill in making magical swords and magical rings. In myth he got captured by a king who made him his slave, maiming him so that he couldn't run away. I think Wayland had the last laugh though.

It's easy to see how the interior of the long barrow that bears his name - unroofed now, except for the huge stones that cap the burial chambers - might seem to the ignorant and superstitious very much like a smith's den (though admittedly one on the cramped side), containing furnace, anvil, and all the tools of his trade. I clambered in and had a look around inside:

Crouching inside, you could look out at the imposing entrance - although originally this part would have been roofed over and there would have been no view, just a small opening to wriggle through.

I didn't feel up to experiencing what it might be like to curl up inside one of the three burial chambers, although the thought of doing so crossed my mind. But daring young lovers must have come here at night from time to time, to have ritual coitus, and if so they would have found it chilly but otherwise quite dry and comfortable. It's an out-of-the-way spot, and they wouldn't have been interrupted.

The entrance and chambers are all at one end of the very long mound, which is edged by smaller stones. 

Inevitably, as a photographer, I paid most attention to the big entrance stones.

There was of course an information board. 

I studied that, and then moved on. I wanted to see the Horse.