A missed opportunity

Every now and again an image appears in my mind’s eye which never got converted into pixels. It is often a perfect line of a dozen black-necked grebes bobbing up and down in choppy waters close to the edge of the Etang de Vaccares, in the Camargue. I spotted them from the car as I passed by last May, pulled over, identified them and drove on, impatient to get somewhere else. How I wish I had spent just a few minutes photographing these fabulous birds.

On Tuesday last week I finished my final postcard selling circuit and was feeling, well, a little elated. During the day I had received an “Aurorawatch” amber text alert, signifying that the Northern Lights might be visible that night. As darkness fell a cloudless sky revealed itself. No moon was visible and conditions seemed perfect; I was unusually confident about seeing the aurora. About eight o’clock I went outside and looked northwards. There was an distinctive white-ish glow right across the northern horizon and – yes – some faint “pillars” or searchlight beams apparently extending upwards from it. I called Jane, then grabbed my mobile phone to call a few friends who I thought might be interested. By about 8.30 pm the glow was still there but the “pillars” had disappeared.

Our house faces due south/north and there is virtually no light pollution; it is perfect for seeing the aurora. Many nights since moving here I have looked northwards in the hope of seeing something but with no success. Occasionally I have woken in the morning to hear reports that the aurora had been visible the previous evening while I had been watching some garbage on television. But over the years I have at least become very familiar with the northern night sky. I know there is a faint glow to the north-east on a clear night which may emanate from Machynlleth, and another to the north-west. So I was certain that the glow we were seeing was out of the ordinary.

About 11 pm I was in our north-facing bathroom and had a last quick peek out of the window. The glow was still there, but there was now a dark gap between it and the horizon. I grabbed a coat and rushed outside again. This time there was no possible confusion – the dark gap was the normal night sky and the glow was the aurora which had moved southwards. Faint pillars moved across the sky. This was the real thing!

But did I get my camera out? No, I did not. In comparison with the aurora images that are widely available the display was so faint that I doubted it would even register on the sensor. I was happy to enjoy seeing it. I just didn’t appreciate how much more prominent and more colourful the aurora always is in photographs than in real life. Images I saw on television and on the internet the next day showed me what an opportunity I had missed. One photographer from northern England had been able to see nothing with the naked eye but went out to a dark place, pointed the camera northwards and pressed the shutter. Hey presto……. an aurora.

So now there is another image in my mental gallery of untaken photographs. I suppose most people have a gallery like this. Do you?

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On a slow boat from China.

Pembrokeshire fridge magnets
Pembrokeshire fridge magnets


For the last six weeks I’ve been working hard getting my Wild Wales postcards out into shops all over Wales. When I started publishing postcards  in 1987 the idea that everyone would have a mobile phone (with integral camera) in their pocket was unthinkable.  Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s inventor) was just three years old. I certainly wouldn’t be starting out with a range of postcards in the current climate but I’m still reasonably happy with the way things are working out. While all of my other costs have risen during that time the price of printing has actually fallen considerably. The unit cost of my last batch of cards was actually about half of what I had been paying at one time! So for the time being the postcards are still viable.

Just about every single other income stream I have developed over the course of my career has either declined gradually or come to a complete dead end. A friend told me I should be doing fridge magnets, but I dismissed them as being “tat”- and I don’t do tat. But he  persuaded me to visit a friend of his, a Scottish photographer named Ian Mills who, as well as publishing postcards,  is making a reasonable income from fridge magnets in his part of the world. Ian has his manufactured in China and he very kindly offered to let me add my requirements to his the next time he ordered. This had the effect of cutting my unit costs by more than 50%. Fortunately Ian is a stickler for colour accuracy so I feel I am in good hands with him as a go between. A small batch of magnets was air-mailed over recently and the quality is very good. I’ve been able to show samples to some of my customers and many seem willing to give them a try.  It is touch and go whether the rest of the order will arrive in time for Easter, however. I suspect by that time they may be somewhere halfway across the Indian Ocean. But other than that I think I’ve changed my mind about fridge magnets.

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