Inbetween not-a-bee post

sheep

We stood on high ground overlooking the rural moors and rugged hills of Lancashire. Sheep stared quizzically as I raised my iPhone to take a photograph. The camera was in the car boot, and time spent admiring the darkly inviting Northern countryside was measured by a lack of road signs and failing satnavs.

Crossing an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) meant we were spoilt for choice for taking pictures, but the weekend was a whirl from start to finish: a wedding in Stonyhurst, a farmers market and ukulele band at Otley, and a reunion with mutual friends from Dubai in Bradford. The camera never got out of its case, but we took plenty of pictures.

Here’s a fantastic photo taken by John as we stumbled across a stony brook at the Inn at Whitewell.

02 trees of the north

And a snap I took walking through the village of Silsden, still decked out for Tour de France.

09 bike festival

When we got back home to London on Sunday night I unpacked my camera with a pang of guilt, mixed with satisfaction there was no memory card to process.

I inherited my passion for photography from my photographer grandmother, Antonie Dees, who had a studio called Cameracraft in Surbiton, London. My interest grew as a magazine editor working photoshoots with professionals like Mark David Hill and Jonathan Perugia, till I finally bought my Canon DSLR.

Canal walk

The joy of using my Canon camera to capture almost what my eyes can see – the light, colours, textures, detail – hasn’t diminished. However, I’ve learnt that a good picture can come from seizing, as well as seeing, the right moment, like the photo above taken while we explored Cowley on a rainy Saturday afternoon. So I’ve put my camera aside this summer for a busy time at work and a new resolution at beekeeping to focus more on keeping bees than photographing honeybees.

And bumble bees…

04 bee of the north

Instagram started as a tool to improve the quality of iPhone photos for my blog, but it fast became an opportunity to see a great photo on the move and take it quickly. And it was fun. Here is a space not only for snapshots of daily life but for creating a scrapbook of moments. As a teenager I loved making scrapbooks and now I have a virtual one on my phone, called @cameracraft2010 after my grandmother’s studio.

Mark David Hill once said to me, “All you need is a camera phone.” He was right. Here’s the story of the summer so far in a stream of scrapbook-style memories…

Swans frolicking in the lido and a woodland train ride at Ruislip.

17 swans 18 train

People or bird watching at lunchtime.

03 hawk

01 picadilly

Or just noticing the ordinariness or splendour of where you are.

29 light and glass

06 On way home at trafalgar

I hope you found some inspiration here for camera phone pictures too!

This is an inbetween not-a-bee post while the honey is harvested, but bee drama returns next week.

INSTAGRAM 101

Thinking of trying Instagram? Do, it’s easy and fun to use. If you want to use it professionally, such as brand building or networking, then the same applies as any communication channel – post excellent content that stands above the rest (less is more) and which appeals to a very, clearly defined audience. There are many articles online that give advice about times to post and hashtags to use, but there’s no real secret to success other than posting good stuff.

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Nanny Africa

01 Nanny Africa

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’.

02 Nanny Africa

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

03 Nanny Africa_Antonie aged 17 photography student

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.

05 Nanny Africa_Antonie c1934

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

09 Nanny Africa_sculpture of Antonie

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.’

07 Nanny Africa_My handsome grandad somewhere in Africa

My handsome grandad somewhere in Africa during World War II.

08 Nanny Africa_Rifle toting grandfather in post-war Hamburg

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.

10 Nanny Africa Kenneth and Antonie with Kenneth and Veronica in January 1951 - London W13

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

11 Nanny Africa_Kenneth and Veronica (aged 10 & 6) Ealing c1957

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.

12 Nanny Africa_Mrs Dees Great experience

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.

19 Nanny Africa_Cape Town, SA 20 Nanny Africa_Cape Town, SA 21 Nanny Africa_Cape Town, SA

23 Nanny Africa_Cape Town, SA

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.

17 Nanny Africa_working for SA library

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

16 Nanny Africa_Cape Town, SA

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

14 Nanny Africa_Cape Town, SA

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.

18 Nanny Africa_Windy memories in South Africa

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.

04 Nanny Africa_young Antonie

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

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If I could turn back time

When I started this blog as an online journal of my exploration of aromatherapy and later to share my adventures in bee-world, I promised myself not to shy away from writing about good and bad experiences. Because sometimes in life things do go wrong.

However, I made a decision several weeks past, which once I realised what I had done, left me paralysed with self-doubt and unable to move forward. I found it difficult to write after the impact fully hit me around two weeks ago.

It was a decision made at a time when I should not have made such a huge choice about my life – whether to go right, left or stay on the same path. My uncle’s death was only fading from my mind while my grandmother’s terminal illness was looming large, and my parents were understandably too preoccupied to talk things through as we would normally. Looking back, I don’t even recognise the person – me – who made the decision. That said, the decision was mine to make and I must accept full responsibility.

The right choice for me, I know now, was to stay on the same path and continue to move towards a goal that I have wanted for many years and that I may have been close to reaching. Instead I strayed off the path and once I realised this I found it very difficult to accept and to just get on with things.

But I can’t turn back time. My only choice now is acceptance, to believe that everything happens for a reason, and to hope that there is something new and positive on the horizon that I can’t yet see.

I have allowed myself two weeks to be sad and that is all the time I will allow.

Life has thrown much bigger things at me in the past and I have survived them all. So I will survive this and I will get back on track at some point in the future. Till then, I’m going to do my best to stop neglecting the parts of my life that I love – the amazing, incredible people who surround me, my bees, my blog, my photography…

My friend Lisa told me that transformation is often painful – like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis because its wings must be tested to be strong enough to fly. This is my period of transformation and it has been painful, but soon I will be strong enough to fly high again.

And my next post will be much happier! It’s all about a wonderful surprise this weekend – from someone who is very right in my life – that has put a huge smile back on my face.