Nanny Africa

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On this day in 1927 Antonie Ursula Dees was born. Photographer, traveller and explorer, Antonie was an enigma to all who knew her. To me, she was grandmother. Antonie was a restless spirit, but she found her heart in Cape Town, South Africa, where she spent many years. In later life, she returned to Germany and lived in Dannenberg until she died on 9 May 2013.

My grandfather called her ‘The African Connection’, which I think she liked. When Nelson Mandela died last week, I reflected how strange it was that another life passing can make the grief well for a loss not yet felt. Mandela inspired a nation and his story caught the world. My grandmother was my African connection and my inspiration. This is her story.

Antonie was born in Pritzwalk, a village in what was then East Germany. Her parents, Franziska and Rudolf, had five children – Antonie, her two sisters Inge and Ilse, and two brothers Heinz and Rudolf. ‘When we were little my father would wake us early,’ I remember my grandmother telling me how they would ‘rub down in snow and go for a run before breakfast’.

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My great grandmother Franziska with Antonie as a baby and her two brothers Heinz and Rudolf.

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My grandmother was a beauty. Here she is aged 17.

Before the start of World War II, the family moved to Hamburg and when the war began Antonie recalled how everything changed. ‘We had to watch in the playground at school as the old Deutschland flag was lowered and the new Nazi flag raised up the mast.’ Antonie and her sisters also quickly learned to choose their friends with care. ‘A Nazi youth caught Inge talking to a Mexican boy and warned her not to speak to him again. We were afraid because families disappeared overnight.’

When Antonie’s father, my great grandfather, refused to let his children join the Hitler Youth, he was sent to the front line in France where he was killed by a British bomb. In later years, my grandmother and her siblings traced their father to an unmarked mass grave in France.

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Antonie Dees, photographic student in war-torn Hamburg c1934.

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My grandmother knew a sculptor who made this bust of her. It was destroyed by British soldiers after the war.

Antonie was a photographic student growing up in war-torn Hamburg. She remembered night-time raids and women with babies running to the River Elbe to dowse the flames. Hamburg was demolished by the time the war was over and the British troops arrived. ‘My older brother Heinz made friends with a British RAF soldier who gave him food to feed the family. Then one day Heinz brought the soldier home.’ The British soldier was Kenneth Spooner, my grandfather. Antonie and Kenneth fell in love and he asked her to return to England as his bride. My grandmother was one of many young German women who sailed to England on a war brides’ ship. ‘They had boats in front to break the ice as we travelled across the North Sea.’

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My handsome grandad somewhere in Africa during World War II.

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British soldier Kenneth Spooner stationed in post-war Hamburg.

I can remember my grandmother tell of her amazement when she arrived in England. ‘There were apples, oranges and bananas that we had not seen for years.’ Antonie said that the British people were very welcoming and she soon felt at home in England.
Kenneth and Antonie had two children, Kenneth and Veronica – my mother.

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Kenneth and Antonie Spooner with Kenneth and Veronica in January 1951, London W13.

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Kenneth and Veronica, my uncle and mother (aged 10 and 6) in Ealing c1957.

Sadly their marriage was not to last and after it ended Antonie opened a studio in West Drayton called CameraCraft.

By my mother’s accounts, nanny was a trailblazer in her day. Antonie was the first woman to take the photography course, and pass her exams, at Ealing Polytechnic and Harrow College. Highlights of her career included aerial photography in a Hughes 300 helicopter, travelling to Austria and Switzerland to make films, shooting actress Una Stubbs for Women’s Magazine, and training an apprentice for renowned British photographer David Bailey.

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Reaching the height of her profession, Antonie was featured in a newspaper article ‘Mrs. Dees Great Experience’. The article reported ‘she accomplished something few women have’ on her experience of going up in a helicopter to take photographs for a local authority. The reporter wrote: ‘Mrs. Dees feels she can photograph practically anything. She has photographed wounds in hospitals; vehicles jammed under bridges, the Lord and Lady Mayor of London, and many other events.’

She loved to travel and explore faraway places. Cape Town, South Africa, was far from London being on the other side of the world. Antonie was enraptured with the country and its people so she decided to live there. And that was that. Without much in the way of permission, my free-spirited grandmother in her early fifties left her home and flew to South Africa to start a new life. She quickly made many friends and had many adventures. Here are some photos from her albums.

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Antonie got a job as the first woman working for the Boiler Maker Union where she changed the oil in large tanks to pay her way. She eventually settled in a small flat in Cape Town at the foot of Table Mountain and overshadowed by the Lion’s Head. Her experience in photography allowed her to get a job at the South African Government library archives where she completed a huge project to microfilm all of the newspapers of the last century by the time she retired.

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My grandmother at her work for the South African Government library archives. Her maxim ‘We don’t just talk about it. We do it’.

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Antonie never lost her passion for photography. She liked to take photos of everything she saw.

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View of Lion’s Head mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.

I remember infrequent visits by my grandmother from Cape Town to London. She was a mysterious and glamorous figure in my life growing up, and on one of her visits she brought back an owl ivory necklace for me, ‘her little wise owl’. We loved her stories of travels and safaris and would miss her so much when she returned to South Africa. My mother took my sister and I to visit Antonie for a month in Cape Town, and we all understood why she fell in love with Africa.

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Windy memories in South Africa with my mother and younger sister. My grandmother is behind the lens.

Some years after Apartheid ended, and now retired, my grandmother returned to her roots in Germany. She lived the remainder of her life in Dannenberg.

Antonie Ursula Dees, our African Connection or Nanny Africa as my sister and I called her, passed away on 9 May 2013. Her life burned very brightly and she will always be my inspiration. Farewell nanny.

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Thank you to my mother, Veronica Ilse Howard, for the photographs from my grandmother’s albums for this post.

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In the Land of Fire and Ice

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Iceland – the Land of Fire and Ice. Where rainbows live in waterfalls…

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Hot pools bubble and mountains rumble…

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Northern Lights beckon…

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And locals don’t deny the existence of elves. They live in the lava…

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‘We started the year with hot volcanoes so let’s end it with cold volcanoes,’ said John as we booked a holiday to celebrate the first year anniversary of when we met. He was referring to our trip to Lanzarote in spring and now Iceland waited for us in autumn.

A place of incredible natural wonder, I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland, which John knew. So one night he stayed up till 1am to surprise me with an Icelandic adventure in two parts. First, we would explore Reykjavik, a city of art and literature, and then we would discover Iceland, a country of snow-capped volcanoes and frost-covered lava fields.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel on the outskirts of the city and a brisk 20-minute walk to the centre, although it took longer as we dawdled taking photographs on the sea front…

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Reykjavik is a sprawling city of beguiling beauty – historic and modern at the same time with colourful old houses and art deco buildings overlooked by Mt Esja and surrounded by the cold blue sea.

There are so many things to do and so much stuff to see that we were lucky to have our own guide, Hjalmar – an Icelandic beekeeper, show us around his city for the afternoon. And there were a few gems that we stumbled upon ourselves, including…

The Sun Voyager – a hauntingly beautiful sculpture of a Viking ship facing the sea. The sculptor, Jón Gunnar Árnason, created the monument to remind Icelanders of their Viking heritage.

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The Old Harbor – where you’ll find ships, whale watching, Northern Lights tours, restaurants serving fruits of the sea, and a friendly atmosphere.

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Perlan – Reykjavik’s most futuristic building, and home to the Saga Museum, built on four rotating cylinders with a 360-degree viewing platform that provided panoramic views of the city. I loved this beautiful sun dial.

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The iconic white tower is Hallgrímskirkja – the church named after Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson. It was designed by architect Guðjón Samúelsson to symbolise the flowing basalt lava fields of Iceland.

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Harpa – Iceland’s biggest concert hall where a recital of Rachmaninoff was playing when we took a look inside.

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We walked the circular route around the expansive suburbs of rivers and parks, past pretty residential areas to the lake near the town centre. Sunset is striking in Reykjavik.

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And as night falls fast and freezes, the mirror-like Harpa building is lit by multi-coloured lights. John thought it reflected the Northern Lights.

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Image by John Maund

Mid-week we woke up excited to start part two of our Icelandic adventures – from eclectic city break to exploring a strange volcanic wilderness of moss-and-lichen covered rocks with thermal vents of steam rising into the icy air.

We left the luxury of the Grand Hotel to meet our Explore group at Keflavik airport. There was some time to get to know our fellow Explorers before our itinerary started with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. Can you imagine a place so magical that it’s indescribable? This, for me, is the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa pooling into the heart of a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, south-western Iceland. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur – you can smell the sulphur – to which the lagoon is attributed healing powers for skin diseases like psoriasis. I don’t know about that, but I do know my skin has never felt so soft and silky from head to toe after swimming in the Blue Lagoon.

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Magical is one word to describe the Blue Lagoon. Otherworldly is another. ‘It’s like we’re in a science fiction movie,’ said John, as we swam in the hot steaming pools. We were surrounded by a weird volcanic landscape like something out Prometheus, which incidentally filmed the alien world on location in Iceland. I can’t describe anything more romantic than swimming in the mist-covered Blue Lagoon as the setting sun caught the sky on fire and cast a red-and-orange glow across the blue waters.

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The Blue Lagoon was a highlight of our holiday, but even better was yet to come.

Hjalmar had warned us of winds from the ‘Northern Pole’ arriving later in the week, and they did. A snow storm blew in as we set off to discover the Golden Circle – one of Iceland’s most popular tours.

Our guide was an Icelander named Valli (I think, at least it was pronounced ‘valley’), and a true bard. Valli was quite kooky, like many Icelanders – I like them! She told and sung us the story of Iceland on our journey – an Icelandic folk song, Christmas carols and the national anthem as we drove past dark serpentine rivers and snowy mountain ranges.

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Image by John Maund

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‘Iceland is the youngest country in the world,’ Valli told us. Geologically speaking. And it is still growing, forming, changing. Our Golden Circle tour encompassed the natural wonders of a country newly emerged from volcanoes and glaciers as it continued to evolve. The land is torn and ravaged by sharp ravines, rift valleys, deep gorges and spouting geysers.

At times it was far too snowy and windy for my DSLR to capture, so this was when John’s automatic was very handy.

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We were travelling in the company of a great Explore group and the blizzard made the day very atmospheric, but Valli had an extra surprise in store. For 200 ISK, or about 70p, we could experience an earthquake 6,3 on the Richter scale.

In 2008 there was a 6,3 earthquake under Mt. Ingólfsfjall – Valli remembers it well – that hit in Hveragerði, Selfoss. Today there is an exhibition of the earthquake – the opening in the earth is covered by glass and an earthquake simulator stands nearby! This is kooky Icelandic humour at work, I think. Valli smiled knowingly as we walked into the shed (earthquake simulator) and walked out shaken (literally) by the experience.

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Our fellow Explorers and Valli made the Golden Circle tour lots of fun, but the best day ever was still to come.

The untamed shores of Southern Iceland have black sand beaches, troublesome volcanoes, waterfalls bursting out of mountain sides and ice caves sculpted in glaciers. Our trip to the coast was met with the return of the sun and scenes so awesome and dazzling that no one could put down their camera.

You may recognise the popular tourist spot below – the unpronounceable volcano that Icelanders fondly call the ‘problem child’. Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010 spewing ash clouds that caused havoc to air travel across Europe.

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Image by John Maund

However, this is just a baby volcano. Icelanders are waiting for Katla.

The surrounding area of Eyjafjallajökull is covered in volcanic ash. ‘Please take a bag,’ said our guide and bus driver. ‘We have plenty. No really, take away as much as you want.’

We were so lucky that the weather had changed again, because without the sun we would not have seen the famous rainbows in waterfalls. John joked that I had the biggest smile stuck to my face, but I have never seen anything like this. This is actually real…

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Iceland is magical. Where else could I walk to the end of a rainbow?

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A sense of wonder? Wow.

And the day just got better. We went ice climbing on a glacier…

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Our beautiful mountaineer who took us safely around the glacier. She and her team were absolutely brilliant. And made sure we had a fantastic time.

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John, the intrepid explorer.

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Drinking pure glacier water – delicious! Image by John Maund

Walked across beaches with alien black sand…

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And roamed behind thundering waterfalls…

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And did we find the elusive Northern Lights? They took some hunting down…

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And more than a few nights searching. Lucky that John had booked us extra time on our tour so that we could try one more time…

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A week had sped past and as our plane flew away from the Land of Fire and Ice, I thought of how many dreams had come true.

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I hope you get to go to Iceland too.

Useful links

Flights – we flew with Icelandair
Accommodation – we stayed at the Grand Hotel
Activities – we booked with Explore

Food and drink – there are lots of excellent restaurants in downtown Reykjavik. Is it expensive? I’d say central London prices. And I particularly recommend eating at the Laundromat.

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Next post 23 November: back to the bees!

Street lights

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‘The night sky isn’t always black,’ said Wei as I aimed my camera at the silhouettes of buildings outside Waterloo station and expected my lens to be swallowed up by the blackness of space. What I got was an electric blue shot of London’s cityscape revealing colours in the night sky that I had never seen. This was Destination Blue Hour – the magical moment when the sun drops below the horizon on a cloudless day electrifying the sky with a blue glow.

Wei is the organiser of the London Camera Club on London Meetup setting monthly ‘missions’ for anyone with a camera (DSLR or automatic) or camera phone to join and practise photography. I had signed up for Mission 6 – Destination Blue hour, for £2, on October 28, 2012, 4:30pm. Our meeting point was Waterloo station, South Bank exit, where we would head towards Hungerford Bridge, Victoria Embankment, Westminster Bridge and walk along the South Bank.

Destination Blue Hour is also referred to by photographers as the ‘Golden Hour’ or ‘Magical Hour’ Wei told us. While many photographers get up early to capture the sun rise, Wei prefers the evening sun: ‘You’ll be able to see blues and oranges in the pale sky against the glow of street lights without any special effects’.

We were told to keep all flashes off and, for those of us with a DSLR, Wei had provided guidelines for experimenting on manual. I chose a low ISO of 100 and, as I don’t have a wide angle lens, a low aperture of F3.5 (and lower), while adjusting shutter speeds of 1/30–1/8–6. I was surprised with the results.

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As nightfell, and so did the rain, our mission changed from Destination Blue Hour to Street Lights & Motion as Wei encouraged us to have fun playing with ISO 100 and very low shutter speeds to capture London’s traffic. I thought my first attempt was a fail, but Wei was delighted with this photo of an invisible bus speeding past…

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… so I tried some more…

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It was an amazing tour as I saw London through new eyes. Wei is a fantastic teacher and I highly recommend his camera club and workshops. The evening ended at a pub where we were told to choose one photo to show the group and then have a drink, and a packet of crisps, to share our experiences.

Since then I’ve rarely gone out without my bulky Canon 600D stuffed inside my bag. Wei opened up a whole new world of night photography to me and gave me the confidence to keep my DSLR setting on manual. I’ve tried his techniques many times while out and about. Here’s Tower Bridge at night and a walk along the Thames with a view of the glittering Shard.

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The low ISO and slow shutter speed method works well for darkened interiors I found at the Natural History Museum’s After Hours when visitors can explore the museum in a different light.

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I love London.

And closer to home in the western suburbs of Greater London – a dusky walk at Osterley Park House and Garden provided the opportunity to capture a fair at the mansion and eerie lights across the lake.

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If you live in London and have an interest in photography, I highly recommend Wei’s workshops. Destination Blue Hour 2 is scheduled for 27 October, this time for £2.50!

To find out more about Destination Blue Hour and night photography visit http://www.bluehoursite.com/.

Next post: 26 October ‘What our bees did’

100th post: Fire mountains of Lanzarote

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Just a four-hour flight away from London lies Lanzarote and the promise of guaranteed sunshine that is too good to resist when the British winter has overstayed its welcome.

Lanzarote is the most easterly of the Canary Islands emerging about 15 million years ago after the break-up of the continental plates of Africa and America. The island was born through fiery volcanic activity and its most recent eruptions in the 18th and 19th centuries left behind a ravaged ‘Martian’ landscape of lava fields and dramatic rock formations.

A speck on the map in the Atlantic Ocean situated off the northwest coast of Africa, Lanzarote is the fourth largest of the Canary Islands, although locals say it is possible to drive from one end to the other in two hours. But who would want to do that when there is so much to see?

This is my 100th post and what better way to mark a blogging milestone than a visit to a volcano!

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The Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago and each one blends Spanish influences with its own unique identity. Lanzarote is said to be the most visually striking – a scorched earth of volcanic ash, crumbling rocks, craters and caverns, and lava coastlines – perfect for artistic travel photography!

We stayed at one of the larger resorts at Puerto del Carmen. After a day spent at the poolside, we ventured out to explore the island’s famous Timanfaya National Park, which was established in 1974 to protect the volcanic landscape.

The Grand Tour started with a dromedary ride across the weird lunar desert. (The dromedary is the one-humped or Arabian camel and it gets the hump if you call it a camel, apparently. The term ‘camel’ usually means the two-humped Bactrian camel.)

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As our dromedary caravan set off we passed the point of no return – the devil’s sign. The devil is the symbol of Timanfaya where he still lives, of course. Devilish signs are found throughout Lanzarote because early settlers thought the volcanic eruptions were caused by a demon.

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Lanzarote is currently declared a world biosphere reserve by UNESCO and large regions of this adventure island are only accessible by coach. So after a fun ride on the dromedaries we took the Ruta de los Volcanes (Route of the Volcanoes) by coach to experience the Montanas del Fuego (Mountains of Fire) up close.

At Islote de Hilario, where the ground was warm beneath our feet, we witnessed ground tests of the volcano. Our guide told us to stand in a circle as hot gravel was dug up and poured into our hands. A burning brush thrust into a pit in the ground and water thrown into holes ejecting turbulently upwards was more evidence of geothermal activity.

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There was even a cooking demonstration at El Diablo restaurant where chickens and vegetable kebabs were slowly roasted over geothermal heat on a cast-iron grill. The restaurant was designed by celebrated artist and architect César Manrique (24 April 1919–25 September 1992) who was born in Arrecife, Lanzarote. His artistic influence is seen across the island.

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And while we couldn’t wander freely around the volcanoes, we were given short breaks to take in the hauntingly beautiful scenery. Here are a few pictures of me and John, a far more intrepid traveller, exploring the semi-active volcano of Timanfaya and the choppy coastline of Los Hervideros.

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As our coach continued to snake around the sleeping fire mountain of Timanfaya, we were treated to a movie-style commentary of Lanzarote ‘on location’. The island has provided the backdrop for a number of films, including One Million Years BC, Enemy Mine, Krull, Clash of the Titans (2010 remake) and Doctor Who: Planet of Fire.

I love this picture taken from inside the coach because the tint of the glass creates a ‘technicolor’ old Hollywood movie effect. I could imagine Raquel Welch running over the hill in her famous cave-girl bikini chased by a plasticine dinosaur.

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We winded through the famous wine region of La Gería where vineyards grow out of volcanic lapilli – little stones that fell out of the air and coated the ground during the volcanic eruptions. Single vines are grown in individual pits protected from the wind by low curved stone walls. This agricultural technique makes an attractive feature across the mountains and the vines are among the few plants to be seen other than cacti and hardy lichens.

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Our visit included a free wine tasting and more opportunity to indulge in arty photography!

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After a quick stop at Lanzarote’s famous cactus garden, Jardin de Cactus, which is home to the world’s spiniest plants and the most out-of-place windmill, our tour finished at Jameos del Agua – an underground volcanic passage formed at the foot of the volcano Monte de la Corona.

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Jameos del Agua is a place of incredible natural beauty enhanced by the artistic touches of César Manrique. The cave system is part of a volcanic tube where local people once hid from marauding pirates and I could imagine this as a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The underground lagoon is also home to a unique species of blind albino crabs, which can be seen everywhere in the black water like tiny white stars.

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The Grand Tour done, we hired a pedalo-style bike to explore the long beaches of Puerto del Carmen and discovered the flavours of the old town. There is a lot more to Lanzarote than volcanoes, there is also sun, sea and sand, spas, shops, bars, restaurants and a night life that was quite well hidden out-of-season!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my 100th post. And while it’s back to bees next time, here’s a little video of Lanzarote holiday memories.

This post is dedicated to my grandmother Antoiné Dees who was a talented photographer and adventurous traveller. I only hope that I can follow half as far in her footsteps.

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Too cold for a bee’s nose

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Another fine day of sunshine and showers in London and it is hard to remember that just over a week ago a blanket of snow had fallen and transformed the city into a winter wonderland. The weekend that it snowed I had been caught in a wintry blizzard when walking in Wimbledon woods and froze these scenes on camera.

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The woodlands were part of a nature reserve with signs to indicate local species, including the green woodpecker. This inquisitive bird can live in an apiary for years before, one day, it learns that tasty treats of bee larvae and honeycomb may be found inside the hives.

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More on woodpeckers later…

The snow had lasted after the weekend until Monday. Those who made it into work enjoyed a lunchtime walk around Regent’s Park as the afternoon sunshine took a sideways slant through the trees.

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There was more to see than just snow – this tree has eyes!

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And these pigeons huddled on top branches to keep warm.

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And spying through the bushes on the penguins at London Zoo!

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London has its own microclimate and by Tuesday the snow had left the inner city completely. In the meantime, a little visitor had landed at the apiary in search of food – woodpecker-bored holes were found on the side of one of the hives. Pat had found similar holes in his hives at Osterley a few weeks ago, so it appears that the woodpeckers are spreading the word.

While Pat and John had wrapped most of the hives in chicken wire, I paid an early morning visit before work to finish the job on our colony and the two that we are looking after for Clare and Charles. A few bees were curious to see what I was doing and poked their heads outside the entrance, but it was far too cold for their noses and they soon went back inside.

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Emily had spotted snowdrops trying their hardest to grow through the hard ground a few weeks back. Not long now till spring.

Related links

Snowmageddon
Winter watch for bees

You may also be interested to read this bittersweet post by Daniel J Marsh on Death of a colony – a beekeepers loss. A stark reminder that January to March is when colony losses are often reported. You can also follow Daniel on Twitter: @danieljmarsh

An Ealing beekeeper at Thanksgiving in Wake Forest, North Carolina

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The last of autumn’s leaves fell as my plane departed London Heathrow leaving behind grey skies and rain. Sunshine and blue skies awaited my arrival at Raleigh Durham.

Welcome to fall in North Carolina where forests splash the landscape with dramatic oranges and reds, and dazzling mirror-like lakes reflect the vibrant colours of turning trees.

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Last month I was invited to Thanksgiving by good friends, Alison and Rick, who live in Wake Forest in Wake County, located north of Raleigh, the state capital of North Carolina. Wake Forest is a beautiful, historic town surrounded by forests, woods, meadows and lakes. The climate is subtropical with hot, humid summers, mild winters (relatively) and boasting temperatures of around 20°C in spring and autumn. I felt that the days were warm and the nights were frosty; my friends ‘reckoned’ it was ‘so cold it was gonna snow’.

I was lucky to stay at Ali and Rick’s beautiful home and to explore the surrounding woods and forests. I set myself the challenge of keeping my camera on manual mode for the entire trip to capture the incredible range of colours, textures and lights of North Carolina.

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As well as its human inhabitants, Wake Forest is home to many forest animals including squirrels, deer, coyotes and a wide variety of birds; the mountainous region of North Carolina even has bears! The red cardinal, the official state bird, was a frequent visitor to the bird table. I found that forest wildlife was less bold than London’s urban wildlife and rather shy of having their picture taken!

I was also excited to see red squirrels, which I’ve never seen in London!

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The clearings in the woods behind the house, where we took the dogs for walks, were heavily populated by stripy, stingy insects that Ali called ‘bees’.

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… but closer inspection revealed that they were wasps. I wasn’t entirely sure, but one photo tweeted later confirmed that they were yellow jackets, the common name in North America for a predatory and temperamental wasp. Poor bees, falsely accused!

We also came across lots of lovely pine cones in the woods, perfect fuel for beekeeping smokers.

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While I didn’t spot a bee, it wasn’t long until I met a beekeeper.

A meeting of beekeepers

Ali suggested a visit to the North Carolina State Farmers Market where I spotted the beekeeper’s stall almost immediately!

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Here I met Berry the Beeman, a crop pollinator and beekeeper of Bee Blessed Pure Honey. Berry teaches children about bees and was happy to share stories about his hives. He likes to keep some Carniolan colonies, because they are gentle in nature, and he often gets Kona queens from Hawaii, because they breed fast and are, apparently, very big bees! (He may have been pulling my leg.) My hive partner, Emily, and I prefer big queen bees because they are much easier to spot on the frame!

Berry invited Ali and me to sample his honey crop. The clary sage honey was mildly floral and delicately textured, while the basswood was powerful and tangy with complex layers. ‘As you know, no two honeys should taste the same,’ said Berry, who told us that clary sage and clover have replaced the tobacco fields as major forage for honeybees in North Carolina. I would like to have tasted tobacco honey!

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The Beeman, who reminded me of Ealing’s beekeepers, would have been at home sitting at the apiary table drinking tea and eating cake on a Saturday afternoon, so I told him a little bit about our association. When I mentioned that John Chapple, a mentor to many new beekeepers, often tastes interesting and exotic varieties of honeys on his travels, Berry said he should try the basswood honey; Ali excitedly threw in ‘He is the queen’s beekeeper!’

I bought three jars of honey for John, Andy and Pat, who always help Emily, me and others with our hives; you can see what they thought in the epilogue to this post. Berry’s stall was very popular, so after buying my honey and asking for a photo we moved on to look at the Christmas trees.

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Thanksgiving was an amazing affair – I have never seen so much food even at Christmas! Traditionally a harvest festival, Thanksgiving is now celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in America; being English this was my first Thanksgiving Dinner. Rick is an excellent cook who made sure that I got the best experience of this American holiday. Turkey, bacon, stuffing, mashed potato, sweet potato and marshmallows, squash, cous cous, jello, green bean casserole, three kinds of dessert… they would have to roll me back on the plane to England!

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All that eating, drinking and being thankful was followed by more forest trails to walk off the Girl Scout cookies Thin Mints.

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My last two days in North Carolina were spent exploring historic Wake Forest downtown where it seems that the British had been before.

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As everyone knows, an Ealing beekeeper is 80% tea and 20% cake so a cuppa in The Olde English Tea Room was obligatory. It was lovely inside – like a cosy tea room in the West Country, except that the cucumber sandwiches and lavender tea were much nicer! The atmosphere was warm and friendly, I love those southern accents!

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The antebellum southern architecture of downtown was reminiscent of sprawling plantation properties and ranch-style houses with beautiful wood panelling, gabled roofs and huge balconies. I also liked the random planting of ornamental cabbages in flower beds – very accommodating for friendly neighbourhood insect pollinators. Local councils in London could take note!

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Rain clouds loomed on the morning before my flight back to London and provided the perfect photographic backdrop for my tour of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Cobalt blue skies and bright sunshine are beautiful, but not always the best conditions for taking photos. Overcast conditions provide interesting contrasts and hues.

The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was established in 1950 on the campus of Wake Forest University. The campus and college buildings have an older history dating back to the 1800s, and tours of the picturesque grounds are available on Tuesday and Friday mornings. I am always fascinated to find out the history, culture and architecture of the places that I visit. My tour was led by Josh who told me all about the tobacco fields that once grew in Wake Forest, the migration of the original college to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the inception of the seminary, which has an impressive international programme. I was rather envious of his travels.

Like everywhere in Wake Forest, the seminary was very friendly and, after my tour, I was free to explore the grounds and take photos of the elegant buildings, pretty gardens and a gnarly, twisted, old tree that I found particularly interesting!

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All too soon it was time to say farewell to Wake Forest and to the new friends that I had made there. The warmth of days was matched only by the southern hospitality and the charm of the people of North Carolina. I look forward to when I can return.

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A huge thank you to Ali and Rick who welcomed me into their home and to their friends, Lydia, Heather, Carol, Jen and Mickey who made me feel like part of the family.

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Epilogue

Back in Blighty, I am no longer worried about crossing the road, but everything looks smaller. Gazing out of my window at the Royal College of Physicians, the trees in Regent’s Park look like saplings compared to the tall pines and oaks of Wake Forest. It is also so cold that it has actually snowed.

At the apiary everyone was interested to hear about my trip to the States over a pot of tea and Emily’s homemade chocolate cake. I gave John, Andy and Pat their Bee Blessed Pure Honey, and John and Pat wasted no time tucking in.

Ealing beeks eating honey

(L-R) Who needs spoons? Pat and John tuck in to alfalfa and basswood honeys from Berry the Beeman, North Carolina.

My Facebook album of Thanksgiving in Wake Forest, North Carolina, is available to view here.

Related links

Wake Forest, North Carolina

North Carolina State Farmers Market

Bee Blessed Pure Honey.

Berry the Beeman

The Olde English Tea Room

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

A study of autumn colours and lights in Regent’s Park

The sun is playful in October. It races across the sky low and bright catching fire to vibrant colours, then hides behind mists and raindrops teasing the day with soft light and vivid tones.

Autumn is a fleeting time of year and so I have enjoyed lunch time walks in Regent’s Park, which has been the perfect canvas for the tantalising display of colour and light.

The days started with golden sunshine, leaves on fire and sparkling fountains…

Gloomy clouds arrived bringing overcast light and saturated autumn colours…

Then the mists fell upon wet leaves capturing spectacular hues, waterfalls and reflections…

Light played with raindrops in the dying rose garden and mists wreathed fading flowers…

I hope you are enjoying autumn as much as I have been!

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Related links

If you would like to visit or find out more about Regent’s Park, visit the website of the royal parks.

Autumn colour: The science of nature’s spectacle is a great video from the BBC that explains how the ‘elements have conspired to give us a particularly spectacular display of autumn colour’.

Check out this post of beautiful fall photos by Donna: Autumn Kalaidescope.

There be dragons or maybe damselflies

‘Surely you have enough photos of bees,’ said Andy on a Saturday afternoon at beekeeping. Emily and me disagreed, ‘You can never have enough photos of bees.’ However, there are insects other than honeybees who love having their picture taken. So when Emily’s boyfriend, Drew, kindly let me borrow his camera lens and extension tube to practise extreme close ups, I went for a walk at a local nature reserve on Sunday evening to see what bugs were staying up late.

My first shot was beginner’s luck…

The clouds had tell-tale hues of orange and rose as the sun started to fall through the sky. There were few insects to be found so late in the day and I stopped to practise macro photography of wildflowers. While looking through the camera at a purple thistle, a beautiful hoverfly landed on the flower – perfectly in focus. I snapped two photos before the shy creature flew away.

Encouraged, I explored further into the overgrowth of thistles and thorns ignoring little scratches on my ankles and arms. Then, two beautiful turquoise jewels flew past and landed at eye level in front of me. I lost all sense of time standing very still and focusing on their eyes, brightly-coloured bodies and shimmering wings.

At first I thought they were dragonflies but the British Dragonfly Society (BDS) website suggests that they may be damselflies. BDS has a helpful Dragonfly and Damselfly Identification Help page, which says that dragonflies land with wings apart while damselflies land with wings resting together, like this…

Dragonfly eyes are closed together while damselfly eyes are spaced apart…

Thanks BDS! And thank you obliging damselflies!

How I took the photos
I have a Canon EOS 600D camera and the kit that Drew lent me is a Canon lens EF 50mm 1:1.4 with a Canon extension tube EF25 II. I took the camera off automatic mode and on P mode (this allows you to change ISO while shutter speed and aperture are adjusted automatically) and then on TV mode (to change ISO and shutter speed). I have started using these modes thanks to a useful tip from Natalia at Jessops who suggested going from automatic to P and TV modes, rather than jumping straight to full manual mode (M). This allows me to try changing some settings, while seeing how the camera adjusts the remaining settings. For example, I started on ISO 100 and as the daylight got less gradually raised ISO to 800, 3200 and 6400 to see what would happen.

This is my second step into the macro world and I am still learning lots, but I found that the camera needed to move in slowly until the blur of colours became focused and the subject appeared. This meant that I had to get the camera very, very close to the insects – inches from their faces – then hold it very, very still because even the slightest motion caused everything to blur. The lens, or perhaps settings, I used had a narrow range of focus limited to specific parts of the insect: the head, the thorax or the wings; more likely this is my lack of experience.

It was so much fun that before I knew it the sun had set and the damselflies and hoverflies had flown home, so I thought it was time that I did too!

Related links
Donna of Garden Walks, Garden Talks continues to blow me away with her breathtaking insect photography. In this week’s post she captures bee wars! Bee Bombing – Happy Monday Funny.

If you would like to read more about dragonflies and damselflies, visit the British Dragonfly Society (BDS) or another blog I follow: The Dragonfly Woman who has a lovely gallery.

Thank you to Drew for lending his macro lenses, and check out Emily’s beautiful pictures on her blog this week: Bees, flowers and sculpture at Chelsea Physic Garden.

EDIT: Fellow blogger Standingoutinmyfield posted about damselflies on the same day! Read her lovely post Rhapsody in Bluet.