December 2012 Highlights

My monthly creativity review for December 2012.

This was a great month as by the end I did get past first base with my new Nikon D5100 – just learning how I want to shoot in terms of settings. Real basics – but I am a newbie and it did take me a while to get there – largely because I decided to just go out and shoot before studying too much. So my current thoughts are that I will always set ISO myself, shoot on aperture priority as a default, set my own white balance and in general start most session on point focus. I really spent a long time fighting the camera in various auto settings – really informative but as it turns out not for me.

The only canned settings I am interested in at the moment is low key – I think this is well worth experimenting with. I would like to do a series based on this mode and have this planned for January.

I spent time in Greece – visiting Thessaloniki – this was my first trip with my camera and the start of many ideas to explore the world and my own thoughts about life.

On the writing side I completed my first creative writing course, a 10 week course with Gary Mapsted in the Evolution center Brighton. What an enjoyable time – I have already signed up for the next one. This site is now well under way and I am concentrating my writing on regular posts here on a variety of subjects. These have been a combination of factual posts on places I have visited and creative writing based on selected images I have taken.

So in general a start has been made and I look forward to a new year in so many ways!

So here are my favourite images from this month :

Higher resolution access on Flickr is here.

They are selected just based on a quick informal scan of the month. So much to learn!!




Painfully slowly we approach the English formations. We are forced on by the crushing weight of those behind, I hear only the sobs and crude curses of those around me. As the field narrows yet more are pressed in from the sides, and slowly we become a heavy, helpless mass of trapped and hopeless souls.

I am exhausted as my legs try to turn and push up under the weight of our armour. The mud is ever deeper. I am pushed against those in front of me, pinned by those on each side. Men climb against my back, as they in turn are driven forwards by the thousands behind. I am no longer an individual capable of any choice. Stay upright, stay standing, do not fall into the drowning slime, this is all that is left to me.

My sword, so obediently drawn under command just an hour ago, is uselessly pinned to me. I cannot breathe. I search the faces of those around me for any friends, for any humanity. There is no-one.

I look up into the grey soulless sky and for a moment everything is still. I see a bird, effortlessly circling. Just yesterday I would have looked on that bird as a simple  animal, a prisoner of its limited capabilities. Today it soars above me, and my mind reaches for it.

The moment is gone, I stumble and then desperately force myself upwards again. I can hear distant  screams from those ahead. I feel the tears on my face. I can hardly breathe, my throat burns and my legs are failing. I feel more solid ground. I look down, and see that I am walking on the strewn bodies that were once in front of me. Some are still alive. Some drowned in the mud. We are climbing now over these men, pushed on against those in front who are themselves slowly falling underneath us.

As part of the terrifying wave that we have become I am slowly forced towards the crest.

I look up into the sky, and feel the coolness. For a moment I am looking out over the falling and dead in front of me. All around me men panic, fighting to gain space, to stay upright as they are pushed forwards and downwards. I look into the sky and I see what others near me have not yet seen, the long cloud of English arrows hanging in the air. They have a single minded precision, launched with one foreign command, beautiful and full of grace.

So many thousands of arrows, hanging above so many hundreds of motionless men. I cannot move, I cannot even raise my arms. There is a long moment of transition as the hanging cloud reaches the apex of it’s measured flight, and then they are rushing  down towards us.

There is a sudden wall of pain as individual arrows tear into us. Again and again. I scream with those around me, and no-one but the fallen can hear us.

Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


arrows hanging in the air
Ancient killing rituals
Designed to kill
Shapes of death
A collective mind
Silent and beautiful
Forged for the purpose of killing
A death is a death

arrows hanging in the air * Selected


The picture is from the museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki. A world away from Agincourt


In a single moment I found out and I fell. As I fell all the truths I tried to hold onto turned out to be lies.

And so it began, a cold dark journey that stripped away so many layers of what I had thought of as myself. Layers that themselves turned out to be rotten, without any true meaning at all.

But there cannot be light without darkness, these year ends and rituals give us the chance to place markers in our paths. Turn away then to put this dark time behind you, and warmly laugh with me into the healing sunlight that comes with every new beginning.

Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


connect all the crosses
bounded by shade
symbols are everywhere
shadows of the symbols
they define each other
there cannot be light without darkness
define them by contrast
the shadow makes the meaning
ley like symbol

there cannot be light without darkness * Selected


The picture is from my trip to Thessaloniki. Written while alone on Christmas eve and early Christmas day.. From the ashes.

There for you

There for you.

Our shadows pass lightly over the landscape. We pause and look out over the future. Your soft unquestioning eyes search for  mine – you are always a part of my journey. You amaze me.

We  turn away and leave that path to be together for a while.

Rushing time will soon wash us both up onto an unimaginable landscape, a pure place that  even our shadows cannot touch.  When you turn and look back for me I will be there for you. How could I not be?

Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


the space beyond
a space in front of us
you are always there
always a part of my journey
space I have not touched
just near enough
the shadow in the landscape
we both look out over the same future
touched not even by our shadows
futures unimagined
not touched there
water and path

always a part of my journey* Selected


I have been learning about the spiritual values of landscape from a friend, and this moment with Charlie expressed that for me.



Over the child’s shoulder

Over the child’s shoulder

My music hurts him now, like me he remembers. Such a joyful, simple thing has been turned into pain by what you have done.

The chords I play cause him to sway and his lips to move as he copies your words, and then he catches himself. You are no longer here.

I think of you also, I look away from my friends and over the child’s shoulder I see you, laughing in your new world.

You are not really there, there is no-one. You are far from me now. But the child remembers as do I, he remembers your gentle song as I played these simple chords and I remember your arched back and the glint of the soft light on your teeth.

I cannot change the chords, I have only a few songs as my memory fades.

But the pain is an addiction, and so I play on.


Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


because of you

your presence

we drink and we talk

now it’s cold

I won’t be with you

I know must you

With laughing instead

Over the child’s shoulder * Selected


I love this picture from Thessaloniki and  expected the short story inspired by it to be much longer.

But after just a few words I stopped. I might expand this from this flash story into something longer.


We run the streets

We run the streets

Darkness. A physical silence. The noise of them had passed, the sudden throbbing and pulsating pain of it – all gone. A slow drip from a broken pipe. Dark puddles on the concrete floor. Broken glass everywhere. I lay still where I had fallen then slowly turned my head. Night reflections of the city. Yellow and orange, inky black.

I close my eyes, trying to feel my body. I can taste the blood in my mouth. I see one of them again, dark shadows, fist raised.

It wasn’t personal, it wasn’t me. I just happened to be there. I raised myself up, looking around. I knew they had gone. Swept on by each other, feeling the rush, railing against the world. But I looked anyway. Pale smoke in the dark distance, there was a faint smell of petrol.

I remember parking, going to the store, picking up groceries. I had talked with him, I always do. We have talked most nights for years, I still don’t know his name. I had often though of asking, but it never seemed right.

Did I sense anything? Like those machines that pick up changes in the atmosphere, tornado warnings?

There was the usual tensions, the constant backdrop of bad news. Bad TV – riot pictures. Bad radio – interviews with nervous politicians. Nothing special.

He had seemed uneasy, fidgety. Maybe he felt something.

“You OK?”
“Tired that’s all. Just tired of it all. No energy. No business. No point.”

He looked around, scanning the street.
So did I.

“It’s late – you shutting shop?”
“Yes – you’re the last for today.”
“Well, good luck.”

I had paid and crossed the dark and empty road. Behind me I could hear him pull down the heavy metal shutters. The rattle of the chains. I didn’t look back.

I remembered reaching the car, putting my bag down, looking for the key. Hearing them in the distance, my heart jumping. A car alarm. Glass breaking. Seeing them running the street, yelling. Sweeping towards me, like flood waters channeled by the road. Dark clothes, so fast. Swarming. Moulded into a single presence, mindless, uncontrollable, powerful and full of malice. No chance of appeal. There had been nothing, then in a blur they were on me, brutal shocks, blackness and it was over.

Now it feels so calm. The storm has spent itself. No tension.

I stood up, slowly, wiping blood off my hand. Just scratches from the broken glass. Twisted wrist from the fall. Nothing broken. Maybe a tooth. Groceries strewn all over the place. Mindlessly I started to pick them up, put them back in the bags. I felt cold, alone. Helpless. I started to shake.


Notes from the Word Hoard

The way the exercise works is explained here.


protest or just run
broken glass everywhere
caught up in everything
holding up the law
break in your hands
in the noise and darkness
swarming down the roads
writing on the walls
and everything breaking
to want just you
Broken glass everywhere * Selected


I chose ‘Broken glass everywhere’ and the short story turned out to be very close to the image. I first thought of running in the physical sense, and then in terms of ownership.

Thoughts on leaving Thessaloniki

On leaving Thessaloniki – my first visit to that city and indeed my first visit to Greece for over 20 years – what are my lasting impressions and thoughts?

Firstly the depth of historical significance that Greece has – it seems so obvious but walking in Thessaloniki and in the Vergina site I experienced a very strong physical sense of the influence of Greece over 3 millennia.

The frustration of the modern Greek people at the crisis, and their anger at the political system. Sadly the country may be to be moving towards large scale unrest in 2013, but perhaps centred on Athens rather than Thessaloniki, which has a much gentler pace of life.

The refreshing way that so many people speak almost no English at all. When I asked a taxi driver for the ‘Byzantium Museum’ – one of the best known places to visit in Thessaloniki – he had absolutely no idea what I was saying. I do find this to be a positive thing, so many countries understandably allow English to dilute their linguistic culture – Greece is more Greek to me because so many people know only their own language.

The friendliness of the Greek people to strangers. Maria said that wherever you are in Greece you will always find someone to share a coffee with you. Xenia (Greek: ξενία, xenía) is the Greek word for the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home. Xenia was considered to be particularly important in ancient times when people thought gods mingled amongst them. It had a practical significance then – if one had not been a good host to a stranger, there was the risk of incurring the wrath of a god disguised as the stranger. I have no idea if there is any real connection with these ancient customs – but modern Greek people are certainly open and friendly, and keen to talk.

It would be so worth me learning just a few hundred words of Greek so as to be able to share that coffee with people who speak no English. I am determined to do so, and to visit again next year. Stefamos, a book publisher that I was fortunate to meet on the plane, shared with me that in Greece when they say ‘lets go for a coffee’ the coffee is totally irrelevant – its just a chance to talk.

And two general things that I am increasingly aware of.

Firstly the extreme importance to me of simply travelling. There is something mentally liberating in physically visiting new places that helps to open doors in my mind. Barriers of repetitive routines and the visual dullness of familiar sights are completely removed just by being in a new environment.

Secondly the the importance of climate on both my physical well being and on the culture of countries. The pilot gave us an in flight update with the weather waiting for us at Gatwick and he said “as you’d expect – cold, wet and raining.” I am beginning to wonder if I can live much longer under such physical clouds and dark days.

I saw the sunlight on the upturned smiling faces of the children in the square of Thessaloniki, and perhaps I need to spend significantly more time under the warming influence of the sun.

Striding Out – Full of confidence

I enoyed the Thessaloniki museum of photography today – and full credit to them for this image that is part of an exhibition that captures the evolution of Thessaloniki over recent generations. It is a small, fascinating showing that provides though provoking images of lfe in the city through various significant events since the invention of photography enabled such documentary images to be captured.

With this image – there are actually 4 large works on the wall – what struck me so much was the confidence of youth, striding out into the sunshine, confident in their appearance, tangibly excited by what life had to offer them.

I spent some time in fromt of these images – asking what these people would say to someone like me, so many decades later. Would they whisper words of encouragement? Carpe Diem?

I wonder. What would my father want to say to me now, if he had the chance to whisper something? I think he would say “go for it – you only get one chance Nigel”.

And I am listening.

Layers of Thessaloniki

Today I walked up into the hills behind the centre of town, heading vaguely in the direction of the castle which I knew to be somewhere ‘up on the top’. I am continuing my approach of not planning anything, not researching anything – just getting out there at every opportunity and seeing what happens.

Within the first few hundred yards I had passed the Roman Agora ( 2nd Century ) and the Aghios Dimitrios church ( 5th Century ) and then started the uphill climb towards the castle.

At the top, within a few meters of the castle ruins, I was totally surprised to find the 14th century Vlatadon Monastery – a UNESCO world heritage site. I wandered around its peaceful courtyard – the only visitor apart from the peacocks and two workmen cleaning the walls. Even the bookshop was locked.

To me the city of Thessaloniki is like a multi layered palimpsest – centuries upon centuries of human activity forming a surprising three dimensional puzzle. Greeks, Romans, Jews, the great fire and two world wars all leaving their marks.

Many of the architectural finds in modern Thessaloniki are actually made when they are constructing a new building – they dig the foundations, find older habitations, stop the construction, excavate carefully, catalogue what they find and unless it is really significant they then fill it in again to construct the new foundations as planned.

On the steep walk up through narrow suburban alleys I was reminded again of the modern struggle that forms the constant backdrop to my visit – the crisis that now faces Greece as it struggles to find any kind of financial stability.

And that struggle is expressed in the Graffiti that I have been photographing every day. It is like the final veneer layered onto so many walls, and in these steep alleys you don’t need to walk far to find amazing juxtapositions of the modern and the old, they sit quite literally one on top of the other.

Sometimes the Graffiti rages it’s simple message of frustration and anger, but so often it is laced with humour and delivered with such skill.

I have no credibility at all to talk about Graffiti – I know nothing at all about it. But that is what my life is about now – finding out what I don’t know, pushing myself, learning and chasing information like a child does. And today I found myself drawn to it again and again – it expresses so much about this latest episode in the long history of Greece. And sometimes despite everything it just makes me smile.


The Museum of Byzantine Culture

Today I spent a peaceful and reflective couple of hours in the superb Museum of Byzantine Culture here in Thessaloniki.

The museum is perfectly laid out and presented over 11 very spacious rooms, organised chronologically from the 4th century all the way to the 15th century and beyond.

The explanations were presented in Greek and in English, the quality of the language used was excellent – so much so that I actually photographed some of the text so that I could enjoy reading them later. I even found some of the names of the rooms to be strangely evocative :

Yesterday I began to understand in a small way what Macedonia means to the Greek people, today I took the very first steps on a similar journey of discovery centred on Byzantine culture. And what a journey – to see such an empire migrate from Latin and Roman polytheism to Greek and Christian orthodoxy as I quietly stroll from room to room..

Each one of the 11 rooms had an attendant who politely watched my progress from work to work. And the main reason for me writing this post is that apart from myself they were the only people in the museum.

For the entire two hours that I was there I was absolutely the only visitor.

Of course I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of having such a museum completely to myself – but a part of me found this incredibly sad. It was gently raining, the perfect kind of day to spend some time in such an informative and cultural place.

Was this the economic crisis? At an entry price of 4 Euros I would like to think not – that it was just a happy coincidence for me. I so hope that just after I left a coach load of excited children rushed in and did their bit to justify the hard work that has gone into creating such a wonderful cultural space here in Thessaloniki.