Lately

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Avebury

A long time ago – certainly years before the 2011 BBC series about the restoration – I saw a picture Avebury Manor somewhere. That side view of the top photo, framed to the oldest, original part of the building. In the picture, the lavender lining the path was still blooming, and it was beautiful. The sort of house I suddenly realised I have wanted to live in always. Alas, the National Trust got their hands into it first, and it’s gone forever (also, I’m still waiting for that Eurolotto win). What I didn’t realise until this summer is that Avebury is actually only about 35 miles from Oxford – a short train ride and a short bus ride – away, and so few days ago I went to visit it for the first time. The restoration of the house didn’t entirely convince me, but I was slightly spooked by how well the mental image of the place I had matched the real place. The walled kitchen garden, the church, the meadow left from the side door, they were all there. This place felt hugely personal and strangely bittersweet; a peculiar expression of what life would have been had I taken some arbitrary turn somewhere and ended up in a place completely different from where I’m now.

 

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Kitchen garden

In the fantasy version of my life I live in a Jacobean farmhouse somewhere, with a lavender and pink rose border lining the path to the front foor, and herbaceous borders the lawns. And somewhere there’s a perfect kitchen garden, full of pretty vegetables and herbs and edible flowers. I’m not much of a gardener, truth to be told tho, so I will probably always keep indulging in this fantasy merely by visiting other people’s gardens…

Bug’s life


It’s been a long, dry and warm summer, and the both nature and garden seem tired somehow, the autumn decay setting in. The horse chestnut leaves are turning, since mid-July, weeks earlier than usually; whatever ails them is getting worse. In the botanic garden, the fruit are ripe and flowers past their peak. And everywhere there are insects of every kind; greedy and desperate bees getting drunk on the last of the summer’s nectar, while the soldier beetles are greedy for something else. Late summer, like late winter, has never been my favourite time of the year; certainly not late summer like this, when the air is still warm and sticky but the lushness of the midsummer is gone. I find myself missing the moment when the wind turns – that inexplicable moment when the autumn is suddenly in the air, when the air is still warm but not quite warm enough for short sleeves and the evening light has a white glow about it.

Flower portraits

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After investing on some high-quality new lenses last year, I didn’t for a long time touch my old MF 50mm F/1.7 lens. There was just something seductively easy about the smooth autofocus and wide angle of the Tamron 17-50mm F/2.8, and also about the zooming power of the 55-300mm F/5.6. But few weeks ago the trusty old fifty came out of the drawer, and has been in use a lot. In fact, I don’t know why I put it aside for so long – there’s a clean, smooth finesse to it that nothing can replicate, its sharpness as soft as it is brilliant. It does bokeh like no one’s business. The shallowness of its field of depth is magical – just look how this flower floats in the air, disconnected from its background (of shiny rose leaves) and even from its own stem, and how only the petals in the front are in focus, the rest of the flower simply rendering into shape and colour.

Cow-parsley meadow

All photos were taken with my old 50mm MF lens, with all but the bottom one with f/2.0. I love the dreamy textures the extremely shallow field of depth creates (demonstrated beautifully by the photo third from the bottom). Being manual focus, it’s somewhat stiff to use, and occasionally it’s difficult to see how well in focus the pictures are, but the end result almost invariably is worth the effort.