What is becoming of the UK?

General

Intro bit…

I’m at long last moved to say something. I rarely comment on posts about political issues because I respect others’ views and understand I’m unlikely to change anyone’s opinion or outlook. This is a plea to those people who who seek to label and box me up in a category because of one cross I put in one box nearly 3 years ago. These are my own views and words, they aren’t meant to represent anyone else’s opinion nor have they been taken from any other source. They’re heartfelt and represent the outlook that just one (naive?) person who lives in this country has. Researching this area has become nigh on impossible due to trying to separate fact from fiction. Almost everyone now has an agenda which makes forming your own views on the current situation difficult. Despite all this, here goes…

Recently, I’ve become agitated, where usually I just don’t care enough to speak up. I’ve written this because I feel I have to say something to the amazing people of the UK. My friends, my family and anyone else that cares to be interested enough. The people that deserve so much better than we’re currently getting and who are being/have been, led into a divisive process that benefits no-one and threatens to dismantle a well tried and tested, imperfect admittedly, society.

Maybe it’s just change, maybe this needed to happen to cleanse the system and the representatives of this country. Maybe good will come of it. At the moment however, the signs aren’t looking positive. Where once we sat and moaned a bit (in a typically British way) about the weather and how the country was governed, we now fall deeper and deeper into an ugly mire, an unknown territory. A territory where all sense of rhyme and reason disappears into god knows where and one that could leave our country in a place nobody wanted, leave or remain.

Effects…

As the Brexit (there, I said it!) ‘negotiations’ fall into deeper and deeper confusion, us, the people of this country, are becoming more and more divided. Where once we had few strongly held opinions, we now have deeply entrenched and bitter views that are becoming increasingly aggressive and insulting. Where once we could have minor disagreements about views and feelings, we now have shouting and slanging matches. This is being played out across the country, regardless of region, ethnicity, religion, political persuasion or age. Friends and families are falling out and becoming damaged over a decision made in 2016. It’s been allowed to rumble and fester for way too long with sideshows and debates that should never have been allowed to see the light of day.

 

Little ole me…

Now, I have to nail my colours to the mast and declare that I voted ‘Leave’ in the referendum. Before all of you who voted to ‘Remain’ hit the ‘x’ at the top of the screen, please hear me out before you ‘block’, ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’ me.

Here’s the most important thing, I’m still ME! Both sides of the referendum vote need to remember this. Your family, friends and people down the pub are still the same people. They/we have just been whipped up into a frenzy of self destruction by a broken and ultimately unfit for purpose system.

Unlike many people (I’m making a presumption here), at the time of the referendum, I chose to ignore the ’10 minutes of fame’ politicians as best I could. I was inclined to vote leave but felt it deserved some of my best attention. So, I researched. I read every piece of information I could on the EU, its record, its history and most importantly its reason for existing. Its mission statement/headline principles/raison detre whatever you want to call it. As you’d expect, I agreed wholeheartedly with some aspects and disagreed with others. However, on balance and over a period of time, I decided that I’d vote to leave. There was no single defining reason, it was a whole host of reasons. Since that time I think I’ve decided that whilst I love the ideology of the EUs principles, I think they are just that. An ideology. Kinda similar to my views on the socialism ideology. As a view its extremely hard to argue with, in reality, a society isn’t as honest, fair and reasoned as they should be and contain a massive cross section of attitudes and motivations. Therefore greed, self desire and basic animal instincts take over. Sadly, its proven to never work in a ‘real’ society.

I was (and still am) concerned about the state of other member nations, their social fabric, their political situations and their financial well being. I’m hugely concerned about the ever rising position of the far-right and wonder if the EU is unwittingly fuelling the ugly fire there too (obviously another debate and more social research required on this one). I’m concerned that being in the EU has done nothing to dampen these fires long term and that currently things have seemingly got worse not better under their banner. A few serious financial problems here and there have been swept under the carpet but they’ll resurface, uglier and harder to solve than they were before. The political situations have become more unstable in many countries and I’m surprised no commentators have sought to establish a link. Maybe there isn’t one and I’m thinking too hard about it but I see harm not good.

So, after 43 years of not being able to have a say (no I’m not that old) I was given a chance to at least tick a box to express my view. So, after said research and I’ll admit, a heavy heart, I put my cross next to ‘Leave’.

 

What I voted for…

Now, at the time, trust me, I believed leave meant leave. I watched on in horror as over the next few weeks I started to hear the term ‘Soft Brexit’. I didn’t vote for a soft Brexit. I’d never heard of it before, I voted leave, I didn’t even know what ‘soft brexit’ meant until I researched it (god, this was taking up some time!). I assumed that if the UK voted leave, we’d approach the EU, tell them we were going and ask if they’d be interested in a deal to help us all (EU & UK) over the ensuing years. I’ll also admit that I thought the UK as a whole would suffer economically a bit for a few years but that in the longer term, we’d be a stronger country, with wider trade relations and partnerships worldwide. Due to them having to be more accountable and taking responsibility for their actions, I also believed we might, ultimately, have better politicians. I believed we’d be even more multi-cultural given we’d have the chance to encourage employees from a wider net than we currently do, albeit one we could control better to suit the infrastructural demands that an increasing population requires.

I now come to the area that hurts me (if anyone cares). Just because I voted leave doesn’t automatically make me a racist, a xenophobe, jingoistic, old, stupid, selfish, tory, privileged (although I am in many ways), a Boris lover, or anything else you may want to label me. I think I’m intelligent (relative I know), careful, thoughtful, caring, loving and generally keep myself to myself. Many people who stand up for the leave campaign and who are in the public eye, do NOT represent my views. In fact, of the ones I’ve seen, most don’t represent me at all, please don’t put me in that box.

 

Logic…

All my contacts/friends who’re adding ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ (from both sides of the debate) on their Facebook and Twitter feeds, have you stopped for one minute and looked at who has generated that meme or ‘bite’ you’re so willing to inform the rest of us about? Are you sure you want them to represent you? Do you really think you’re doing any good with your share? Stand up for yourself, believe in what you want to believe in on your own two feet. Do a bit of ‘boot on the other foot’ thinking. We have a modern day belief that all opinion is valid and equal. Where did that come from? It isn’t and never should be. (It’s where democracy fails miserably).

Logic? Where has logic gone? After 43 years without a say on Europe, we’re given one. Now, because the minority (48%) don’t like the result, we want another vote. Logically, where does that lead us? An EU referendum every 2/3 years? If we now vote remain, regardless of the %ge split, do we have another vote in 2/3 years time when the EU change a law/trade agreement/budget/member state etc etc etc because ‘we didn’t know what we voted for’? Where does it stop? Do we give ‘the people’ a chance to ratify every decision Government makes? Marches of a million people, petitions of x million people should make no difference, we had a vote, a UK wide vote of the whole population. If that stands for nothing then what happens next? If ‘remain’ had won the vote 52/48, seriously, would you even countenance talk of a second referendum to make sure we really wanted to remain when the EU altered something we didn’t know at the time?

We elect an MP locally to represent the region’s views in parliament. To represent it’s views for the next 5 years. We do this because it isn’t practical to hold a referendum on every issue that comes to parliament. Those politicians are meant to represent our local views in parliament on national issues. The EU vote wasn’t party political, it wasn’t split into region or country or area. Yes it was counted regionally for practical reasons but not any other. MPs saying they represent a constituency on the EU vote are wrong. They don’t. They didn’t stand for election based on their views, they weren’t elected to parliament on their EU views. They should stop with party and regional politics and represent the UK vote. They didn’t stand, nor were they elected on the EU referendum.

Logically, the UK voted leave. The only debate parliament should be having is can we get a deal. The answer appears to be no. Obtaining Customs and Trade Unions (soft brexit) means we are not leaving (given the principles the EU sets out under its own banner). Its remain in everything but name with the added complication of no representation.

Having worked in business for decades, negotiations at this level are hard. If our approach had been as it should have been, (we’re leaving, this could be disruptive to both, shall we sit down and construct a way to minimise this) we might have got a trade deal. We didn’t and we haven’t. Taking our most powerful weapon off the table (no deal) not only weakens the negotiation, it destroys it.

No deal

MPs and people who voted remain and can’t accept it, talk about no deal in an inflammatory way. In fact, it has now become known as “catastrophic no deal”. In the age of sound bites, this language trickles into the brain unless you stop for a second and consider the statement. What is a catastrophe? “An event causing great and usually sudden damage or suffering; a disaster”. Now that is quite some use of language. I assume they aren’t likening No Deal Brexit to Cyclone Idai or any of the natural disasters that so sadly hit around the world killing thousands and leaving survivors with years of hardship and trauma.

So what do they mean? Do they mean, ultimately, that things will be different? That the economy will have to adjust itself. That we will suffer hardship financially long term? We may have to adjust, adapt and improve. We may have to re-align our business ideas and approaches. We may need to seek new partnerships and trade with new businesses. Things may be awkward for a few months, even years. But catastrophe? Really? We are the 5th largest economy in the world. Has any MP actually worked in business and dealt with other businesses in the world? Have they any idea how businesses work? To be successful you have to adapt, alter strategies and partners all the time. It’s what business means. You don’t just sit there waiting for the world to come to you. it won’t. You go out there and you forge relationships, you network, you diversify, you risk assess, you create, you design, you be flexible. If you don’t do these things, you’ll fail, whatever your restrictions or freedoms.

The Government’s economists have predicted a 6-9% drop in the economy in the long term, now, if that’s true, what does that really mean? That we all lose our jobs and become homeless with no food to eat or water to drink? (Is 6-9% over 15 years catastrophic?). No, it doesn’t of course. This prediction was put out by the same economists that failed to predict the financial crisis of 2008, that said if the UK voted ‘Leave’ the economy would suffer damaging effects. “The central conclusion of the analysis is that the effect of this profound shock would be to push the UK into recession and lead to a sharp rise in unemployment.”  This comes from HM Treasury, published in May 2016 and available to read here. I personally find it staggering that these so called ‘experts’ are never publicly held to account for such total and utter twaddle. Two years on we obviously see a completely different set of numbers.  For these types of reasons I refuse to listen to any economists prediction on the future. They simply have no idea whatsoever. How could they, markets and outcomes can change in an instant but overall they are robust, sophisticated and secure over the longer term. Nothing is perfect obviously, improvements need to be made in every walk of life but overall, they’ve stood the test of time despite some pretty distracting and devastating events worldwide.

 

National Pride

This is another phrase the media, social media, right-wing activists and MPs have corrupted and almost outlawed. It’s time we reclaimed it for us ‘ordinary’ people. Im proud to be European, British and English. There, I said it! Why shouldn’t I be able to? Why has our nations flag come to mean something sinister? How dare anyone take that away from me and make me feel guilty displaying or feeling it. Why have we allowed it to become a symbol for hate and intolerance? I can’t think of any other country in the world where this situation exists (it probably does somewhere but I’m not sure where).

If I was Welsh or Scottish (or pretty much any other nationality), I can wear my flag on my lapel, on my car, in my house, on my business, fly it at my local pub, wear or display it, lets be honest, anywhere I like and I’m seen as being proud of my country. However, if I was to display the Cross of St George anywhere I would immediately be labelled by many (not all I’ll admit) as a thug, right-wing, stupid, ignorant, offensive etc etc. Why is this? I’m not responsible for anything that happened historically. I wasn’t born then, I hate it as much as no doubt the Germans hate their past, so why is it seen as such an offensive, intolerant symbol? If it’s beyond redemption, can we have a new one please? I’m sick of being embarrassed about it. I’m proud of my country, the UK and of England.

I love living here, living in one of the most multi-cultural, free societies in the world. Why shouldn’t I be proud? Yes, we have difficulties, disagreements, crime, health issues etc but, lets be fair, it’s a lovely place to live? And maybe there’s the rub. We’ve lived such a privileged lifestyle (relatively compared to the rest of the world), free(ish) access to healthcare, a welfare system, low unemployment, a well regarded police force, a relatively fair justice system, that we’ve lost touch. Lost sight of what ‘bad’ is? I know that most other nations are extremely envious of our infrastructure, our economy, our status, our financial situation, our standard of living and pretty much everything else. Maybe we, the people, generally don’t appreciate what we have and what our little country provides us with.

I often think we all need a reality check at times. We sit around and are laughably negative about almost everything, it’s part of what makes us British, moaning about the weather and anything else we can find to moan about. However, we’ve lost our identity (no, not because of immigration, its obviously not what I mean) our belief system and what it means to be lucky enough to live here.

 

The end…

As a country, we can’t change the world and make it a better place on our own (history proves that) but we can exist in harmony and assist where we can. With our friends and neighbours in Europe and hopefully, our friends across the globe too, we can remain helpful and tolerant in the world. We’re better as a nation than we’re currently displaying, we’re cleverer than this and we’re fairer than this.

We conducted a National vote, we voted to leave for all sorts of reasons but the result was clear. Please lets just get on with it, leave without a deal (we can always negotiate one afterwards anyway can’t we? Note to self: more research needed!), stand up, be strong and believe in ourselves, in Britain. We’re pretty damn awesome. The outcome will hopefully pleasantly surprise us all.

PS If you made it this far then thank you for your time. I don’t expect you’ve changed your view either way but hopefully, just for a second, I’ve provided you with an insight into one persons reasons for voting leave. Good luck over the coming months/years and I’m sure we’ll find a way to keep on smiling and genuinely be proud of our nation (in a good way!)

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Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Finale)

General, Photographs, Travel

Our last full day in this magical place was to begin with an afternoon walk to the Icefjord which was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2004. It involved a ‘Black Death’ shuttle from the hotel, south to the excellently maintained boardwalk that leads from the area where most of the Huskies are kept, out to the Fjord itself.

Now, although it was only a few miles of gently undulating walk, it was going to prove to be too much for Hels. Her ankle was now showing signs of severe bruising and swelling (despite the ice-pops) and she was still in some considerable pain although that had eased a bit too. We’d decided it couldn’t be broken (although quite how we managed to come to such an amateur diagnosis I really don’t recall) and must just be badly twisted and rest was the order of the day. Hels wanted to make sure she’d be able to board the boat again in the evening and therefore decided sleep, rest and more food was going to be the order of the day.

So, somewhat depleted, our party headed off to the trail. We found it very well kept and extremely easy to walk along the gentle rises and falls of the couple of miles needed to reach the edge of the fjord itself.

When we got to the site, we were presented with magnificent views of all the glacial icebergs and deposits, huge goliaths and small chunks, all crammed into the estuary on top of one another. The exit (to Disko Bay) for these bergs is shallow and they therefore log-jam up against each other rather like a blocked escalator until the bigger ‘bergs melt (or break down) enough to release themselves into Disko Bay and eventually the ocean.

This gives an onlooker like me the chance to scrabble around the shoreline and marvel at the sheer scale here. It’s all a bit overwhelming really. Because the viewpoint is high, its easy to underestimate the size of everything. In fact, perception of size, even when stood looking down at them in the flesh is really tricky and I found my brain being quite easily tricked into believing things weren’t that large.

This became such a distraction that I realised most of my images from this site were almost all shot including a person or some other object so as to give myself an understanding of the enormity before me.

GL TN-3598GL TN-3603The two images above demonstrate why scale is needed to be given here

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Dotted along the barren rocks were all manner of lichen, mosses and even clumps of small alpine flowers. Proof that life will cling to even the most inhospitable of locations.

I shot a lot here with my Canon 7D Mark II strapped to a 70-200mm L f2.8 with 2x convertor attached. This gave me an effective focal length of 224-640mm (on the crop sensor) which meant plenty of reach. It gave me the chance to shoot some interesting perspectives especially as most of our party had managed quite a climb/clamber up the highest rock for a vantage point overlooking a small bay and largest icebergs.

GL TN-1950GL TN-1953GL TN-1956GL TN-1959GL TN-3613The tiny dots on the farthest rock are people!
GL TN-3624Now, which direction is it flying?
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GL TN-2-3GL TN-2-4Looking down on the well maintained boardwalk

After a couple of hours we sauntered back to the waiting ‘Black Death’ for our return to the Arctic Hotel and our final evening dinner there. I of course told Hels that she’d missed nothing and the view was a bit dull but she was bright and claiming her ankle felt a little better.

After another excellent meal and a couple of warming beers we set off for the last time out onto Disko Bay again at around 8:30pm. Hels was able to stand a bit which meant her view from deck was better than the previous evening. This time we ventured north of Ilulissat along the Bay’s coastline to see what we could find. We weren’t disappointed with the change in direction and stopped off at every interestingly shaped iceberg we could find. The light wasn’t perfect but with very little breeze, it was still a gorgeous final evening.

We found a double arched iceberg that was close to the shore and while we were circling it we heard an almighty crack and rumble. We were all expecting a total collapse given the noise and Capt. Daniel hurriedly beat a hasty retreat, taking the yacht away from harms way if it created any sea surge. Unfortunately, Ian was flying his drone around the ‘berg at the time and it meant he hurriedly had to land it on deck whilst we were moving. Now, as he’d only just got this particular drone and wasn’t familiar with it’s sensitive controls, landing wasn’t going to be easy. The ropes and masts for the sails on the yacht made it even more tricky. After a sterling attempt however, he managed to crash it into the main mast and it fell gratefully on deck with the only damage being to the props (cheap and easily replaceable) and Ian’s pride. He was delighted to have got it back at all.

Meanwhile, the huge arches seemed not to suffer any visible damage at all! Incredible to us given the volume of cracking we heard. So, we stayed and continued to shoot away to our hearts content.

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We reluctantly left the area and headed back for what was for us, an early night. We were all leaving the next day, most of us on the 1:00pm flight to Reykjavik.

After packing up, getting some much needed breakfast and catching the extremely convenient shuttle bus for the 5 minute ride to the airport, we awaited our flight. It was on time again (not common in Greenland) and we all gasped as we saw it coming in and landing on one wheel due to the near gale force gusting winds outside. We were quickly boarded and headed to south west Greenland to land and await refuelling (apparently fuel is cheaper here). This took over an hour due to a bigger jet also requiring sustenance and only one refuelling truck! Eventually we flew into Iceland and we overnighted at the same B&B we stayed in the week previously. We flew the last leg of our journey to Luton UK the following day.

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As a footnote, Hels’ was struggling through customs and security so much, we commandeered a wheelchair for her. As a result we sailed through the packed passport checks and baggage reclaim. Her ankle was assessed the next day and required an x-ray as the local hospital thought it was probably broken! Yikes!! Off we trooped to the nearest facility with the right equipment and were reliably informed what we’d expected (hoped). It was a very bad sprain. So with crutches in tow she started the gentle healing and strengthening process that took around 4-6 weeks to be back to normal.

She has no ill effects from the tumble now. 

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Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 6)

General, Photographs, Travel

After another great night’s sleep we headed to the excellent Hotel Arctic lunch restaurant. All the comments we’d read about difficulty sleeping in almost 24 hour daylight had proved unfounded for us. Maybe it was because we were so tired from our excursions or maybe it just didn’t bother us but nobody in our party complained of lack of sleep.

Considering the limited ingredients that must be open to the Chef at the only 4* Hotel within literally hundreds (thousands?) of miles, the spread and choice of food available to the hotel’s guests at all times of the day is quite incredible. We tried to limit ourselves to a snack as we were off to a different settlement, this time North of Ilulissat, to have a traditional meal and wander around onshore for a few hours.

GL TN-2GL TN-2-2Views from the harbour

The weather as we departed at around 3pm was just fantastic. Wall to wall blue skies and the air, oh that air, so clean and crisp and cold, I swear you can almost taste its purity!

‘Black Death’ hadn’t been fixed so we commandeered a Hotel Shuttle and headed down to the harbour once again to meet the Rusarc.

I’d decided to have a play for a bit with my fisheye lens on the trip out. Shots of the boat and any close up ‘bergs, just to mix things up and keep my eye fresh for new opportunities. The results weren’t great but it’s always nice to experiment.

GL TN-3164Captain Daniel at the helm
GL TN-3186GL TN-3177Hels on deck, drifting gently in the calm

The Bay was just so calm with no breeze which meant the gorgeous looking deep blue sea was acting like a giant mirror at times. The contrast between the white of the icebergs and the blue sea/sky was just another incredible wonder on this totally brilliant trip. The shadows were creating such sumptuous texture on the giant lumps of ice that meant as we circled the more interesting shaped ones, camera shutters were going crazy. Any second you’d thought you’d captured the shot, we’d move slowly a few degrees left or right and you’d realise there was another shot to be had! Icebergs with a distinctive shape one side had a completely different look and feel viewed from the other. It was almost too much for this photographer! Kinda iceberg porn overload. There were times I stopped shooting in order to just take it all in.

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After what felt like only 5 minutes (actually a couple of hours) we were making the very slow progress into Rodebay, a very small settlement, accessed via an extremely shallow inlet to a small lagoon. Capt. Daniel took it very carefully, tiptoeing through the narrow channel. We hopped into the ribs again and got to the settlement via a well maintained jetty. The sun, the comparative warmth and the season meant we were no match for the millions of mosquitos waiting for us on land. We were literally live food begging to be feasted upon. We sprayed up, donned our less than glamorous mossie headnets and set forth.

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After a very brief wander to get the feel of the place, we entered the restaurant at H8. Yes, a restaurant in a place with less than 50 inhabitants! This is an old whaling station and staffed by a lovely young couple with an equally delightful daughter.

We were presented with a platter of ‘traditional’ food. Seal blubber, dried fish, whale, shrimp and other delights from the sea. I tried most, (I couldn’t face the whale for moral reasons) some elements were much tastier than others but all in all, it was good to experience what the native people survived on here. Raw Seal blubber wasn’t my favourite but its a high calorie food source for Inuit people and very important nutritionally. The dried herring(?) were my favourite and ripping them apart, chewing the salty flesh was strangely satisfying and very palatable.

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We headed out to explore the village and clambered over rocks, through a bog and wandered around brightly coloured houses. We came across an abandoned larger house which was decaying and unsafe to enter. Through the window we saw a living room with an old piano covered in dust and rotting away.

As I was about to see if a photo was possible I heard a thump behind me and turned to discover Hels on the ground and in some considerable pain. The long grass had concealed an extremely uneven base and she’d heavily gone over on her ankle. Looking at her, we feared the worse and managed to help her to a nearby rock for recuperation and our (very) limited assessment. After half an hour or so she said she felt the pain was easing and insisted she was fine and that Ian and I should carry on exploring. We headed off in different directions but were back again after only a few minutes as any attempt at getting photographs seemed a bit trivial and we were too worried about her.

We virtually carried her back very slowly across the rocks to H8 where the only ice (would you believe) they had was a couple of ice-pops. We strapped them around her ankle as best we could and waited for the others, all the while being attacked by mossies and worrying how on earth we were going to get her back aboard the yacht via a rib!

Three Husky pups were a welcome distraction and I tried my best for 20-30 minutes to get a good shot of them playing and snarling at each other but failed miserably as they just wouldn’t sit still for 3 seconds. I gave up. Imagine my annoyance when a fellow member of our party returned 20 minutes later, said ‘Hi’ to us, saw the dogs, wandered over to them and they sat still for a good 10 minutes in the golden sunlight almost like he’d posed them!

GL TN-3334GL TN-3336Hels, post fall, claiming she’s fine!
GL TN-3338GL TN-3342GL TN-3346GL TN-3351Those pesky Huskies!

We were to be treated to one more sight before we left. A small boat had pulled up to the jetty and a guy got off and tied a couple of ropes from the boat to the jetty. He then departed again and walked back 10 minutes later untying the ropes. It wasn’t until a few minutes later we realised he’d had a successful hunting trip and had shot two seals. He proceeded to drag one up onto the rock next to the jetty to skin and butcher it. An older Husky pup sat, barked and watched the whole scene from only a few feet away. It never dared to go too near the carcass but barked at the hunter almost constantly. It was a strange sight for us. We’re brought up in such a sanitised society where we don’t get to see these things. I decided it was just part of everyday life here and that I’d photograph the scene although it was a bit gruesome to witness.

Getting Hels back on the yacht was painful for her but somehow, between us all, we managed. How she grimaced through the pain I’m not sure but she seemed as comfortable as we could get her on the deck, leg raised on camera bags and wrapped up warm against the now setting sun and reducing temperature. I concealed my fears that if it was a broken ankle, I wasn’t sure what medical facilities were available on Greenland and how we’d manage. I think all of us had the same thoughts but none of us voiced them at the time.

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The setting sun was now making the return journey much more interesting and we cruised around, circling icebergs that had incredible shapes. With the shadows we were spotting all sorts of faces, animals and gargoyles in them and continued to snap happily away.

GL TN-3384GL TN-3394Some of the ‘bergs looked like they’d been carved into statues!

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It was a true “Fire & Ice” moment as the setting sun had turned to a real orange/red, basking the ice in front of us in a very exciting light. Where should we point our cameras?

GL TN-1934A gargoyle faced iceberg that from front view had no face at all

Hels’ injury and by now, badly swollen ankle had meant she spent an uncomfortable evening on the boat, mostly looking at the backs of the rest of us happily stood directly in front of her. Like the trooper she is, she winced a few times but never complained. She was mostly cross with herself for letting it happen and how it might effect the rest of her stay. Getting her off the yacht was another painful experience but between quite a few of us, we managed to carry her over the guard rail and onto the jetty. She decided to take the night to see how things were in the morning. We were beginning to hope that it wasn’t broken and it was just a bad sprain but only time would tell us.

GL TN-2-4Hels’ view for most of the return journey!

The day had been another brilliant day (from a photographic perspective) and we, not for the first time, made our way back wearily (with able assistance for Hels) to the hotel and a good night’s sleep and some pain killers.

Exloring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 5)

General, Photographs, Travel

We set sail mid-afternoon in glorious sunshine across Disko Bay, heading for a tiny settlement called Ilimanaq about 10 miles south of Ilulissat.

Deep blue skies and bright sunshine provided a totally different but equally magical sight of the icebergs floating in the Bay. As we gently cruised by, we were again captivated by these blue/white giants, serene in their environment, harming nobody and remaining untouched and undiscovered. Each unique form beautiful in its own way, reflecting the bright sun to create it own mystical footprint in our minds.

If I sound a bit dreamy, then I’ve captured perfectly the feeling these floating chunks of million year old water in solid form had on me.

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We sailed on to the small village that has 54 inhabitants. The initial view from the sea revealed a tiny set of brightly coloured homes scattered along the shoreline. Towards the north a few modern wooden pods sit slightly away from the main village. These are quality holiday lets (Ilimanaq Lodge) for those seeking total tranquility and a ‘get away from it all’ experience. The only access to this remote place is by boat and there is one small shop that also doubles as the restaurant where we were about to eat our evening meal. greenland-1508_tn

The trip from the ‘Rusarc Aurora’ yacht to shore was eventful as a large (comparatively) fishing boat was moored alongside the only jetty. Our Captain decided to load us onto the rib in shuttles and mount a large rock near enough to our destination for us to clamber on shore and up the slope to the village. Somehow this was a fitting introduction to this quaint but beautiful little village. By now the sun was relatively warm on-shore with little breeze which encouraged the mosquitos and gnats to feast on any exposed skin we cared to offer up to them. Needless to say, ‘warm’ means 10°C in Greenland so mostly they went hungry. We ate a lovely traditional meal at the restaurant which catered expertly for the surprisingly diverse (fussy) diets required by our travelling party. I enjoyed the food in Greenland, very different with new tastes and textures. I took the view that I’d try it first and ask questions later! Most of it was lovely, a few items not so but that’s all part of the travelling experience.

After dinner we were free to explore and take as many photographs of the village as we liked. As I roamed around, taking in all the sights, smells and sounds (mostly barking), I wondered how life must be here in the deep, dark winter.

greenland-2492_tnIan outside the beautiful renovated restaurant that also serves as the office for Ilimanaq Lodge
gl-2Hels resplendent in a fake (?) furry thing at the restaurant!
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greenland-2511_tnSmall village houses, all overlooking Disko Bay
greenland-2512_tnThe small ‘pods’ of Ilimanaq Lodge

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greenland-2531_tnThe Community Church

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Ian buzzed his drone around the village and took some good footage from high above and even managed to land the thing without a hitch!

Before long, with full tummies we clambered back onto the ribs and back to the yacht for what we hoped would be a good sunset.

We could see in the far distance and off to the west, a big arched iceberg that we knew we’d be heading towards.

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It was a bit of a race against time to make it before the sun finally dipped below the horizon but right on cue, we arrived at the arch. We’d all heard a tremendous thunderous crack coming from this ‘berg while we were waiting to leave the shore and hoped it hadn’t collapsed but when we arrived, we could barely see what had caused the noise. As this was the only iceberg around, it had to have come from it but evidence was hard to see.

Again, words just do not do the wonder before us any justice whatsoever. It was just beautiful. The air, the sunset, the iceberg, the calm, the colours, the beauty. Add to that a pretty red sailing boat and, well…yummy!

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After over an hour, we reluctantly headed off back towards our base of Ilulissat but had another few hours to idly cruise around the Bay and amongst the big icebergs again. Incredibly, we were treated yet again with an Alpenglow in the sky just as the moon was rising above some big icebergs. This place, it just continues to give!

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The day hadn’t finished yet despite the late hour. Greenland still had a couple of gifts for us yet, the first was welcome, the second not so!

gl-1775gl-1792Humpback Whales in the half-light. A gorgeous end to a long evening!

The disembarkation was much needed as it was now nearly 4:30am but wow, what a day. Our last surprise was the death of ‘Black Death’! It wouldn’t start despite an attempt at a weary push start in the harbour. Trust me, it wasn’t funny at the time!  We reluctantly gave up and trudged up the hill and along the short but seemingly endless (at that time of day) road back up to the Hotel Arctic. Our beds were an alluring sight and off to dreamland we headed!

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Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 4)

General, Photographs, Travel

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We were seriously knackered after all the excitement and the very late night the previous evening. Not surprisingly we missed breakfast and decided instead to grab a small lunch. We wandered down the road again to see how far away the town was from the Hotel. Having got to the top of the hill overlooking the harbour, we decided it was too far so turned around and came back to the comfort of the hotel and another snooze! This nocturnal existence was necessary but hard to keep up with. There was so much to explore and see.

Before we knew it, we were having dinner again and preparing to head off out on the boats for our next adventure. The weather was overcast but we were excited again to be cruising around Disko Bay. It was early evening, around 7pm when we set out.

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We’d plumped for the red sailed ‘show’ boat again for two reasons; firstly we’re anti-social Brits and secondly because we had no idea why no-one else wanted to be on it so it was less ‘busy’.  We later realised that photo opps were much better on the other boat as the one we were on hoisted it’s vivid but apparently useless, red sails and served to make the ice look even prettier and provided some oft needed scale as to how massive these things are. We weren’t out for long however before we encountered a bizarre looking iceberg that had a long dinosaur ridged back. As can be seen above, it’s at these points that any photographer manners and decorum is temporarily waived. Ian is practically mounting me from behind as I’ve pushed in front of him cos “I’ve got a 14mm lens” and ‘need’ to be at the front so as not to get any boat in my shot! Ian responded of course, as he should have done and I deserved.

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We continued pootling around with all of us marvelling at all the different shapes and sizes of these incredible structures. We snapped and snapped away at anything and pretty much everything. My philosophy was that I’d never be here again and I can worry about what’s good and what isn’t when we get back home. Others were more circumspect but after a while, it became hard for me to make a decision so I shot anyway!

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We found this particularly odd looking iceberg (above) whilst cruising around. I’d seen it from the terrace of the hotel earlier in the day and it’d drifted quite some way before the evening. We have no idea what the jet black strata are in this lump of ice that appeared to have calved from the glacier and fallen onto its final resting place but it sure looked odd!

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As the sun set, the clouds cleared a little and we were afforded some stunning shots. Each twist and turn of the boat (and our heads) afforded a different coloured light and reflection on the ice in front or behind us. We were in photography heaven, deciding which way to point our camera was fast becoming a problem. Being on board with other photographers meant you just couldn’t help but sometimes feel their shot was going to be better than yours so you’d better take their view as well, just in case! It was almost an overload of views and sights.

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The cloud formations all around us were different depending where you were pointing your camera. Even the background was teasing us.

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It became apparent after a while that each of us had a shape or ‘style’ of iceberg that we preferred. I loved these huge, smooth looking lonely ones while others picked the craggier, rougher shapes.

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Likening the shapes to objects, animals or seeing faces in them became a ‘sport’ and I think in our delirium during the wee small hours, we even started naming them!

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We were patting ourselves on the back as we looked at the never too far away ‘Rusarc Aurora’ and its busier decks before we came to a halt and the crew started to raise the fake red sails. We sat helpless as our boat positioned into the middle of the berg below, under the moon, while the ‘other’ photographers snapped merrily away at our pretty boat through the ice. Damnit, now we understood and didn’t make the same mistake again on this trip.

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We continued floating around the icefjord until sunrise and didn’t get back to shore until 5am, by which time we were exhausted but still hugely grateful to be in such an incredible place in this world. We decided that as they were serving breakfast in the hotel, we may as well grab some sustenance before heading to our beds for a well earned sleep. Another gorgeous and productive night.

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Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 3)

General, Photographs, Travel

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After lunch on our arrival day we settled into our rooms (ie, we had a kip!), it was time to head to the conference room of the Arctic Hotel, meet our fellow photographers and listen to our guides give tips on safety, what to expect, camera settings and processing.

To be honest, none of us could wait to just get out on the boats and see for ourselves. Our group was truly international and had flown from all four corners to be on this trip. We thought our journey to Greenland had been a bit tricky to organise but we soon realised we were lucky! The guides were Daniel Kordan and Raymond Hoffmann from ‘Iceland Photo Tours’, themselves from Russia and Iceland respectively and top travel photographers. They were experienced, fantastically enthusiastic and understood exactly what we were looking for. They explained we’d be on two yachts, both were crewed by extremely experienced and veteran sailors who’d navigated much harsher and awkward seas than Disko Bay where we’d be all week. The Russian crew sail all over the world in both Arctic and Antarctic seas, taking guests to amazing places to see incredible sights. The main yacht (Rusarc Aurora) would be the one we’d spend most of our time aboard and the ‘prettier’, red sailed second vessel would offer support and photo opportunities.

Both boats are suitable for icy seas having specially adapted hulls to cope with most small ice collisions but we were warned that in particularly iceberg laden areas we would be told to sit down and get out of the Captains view clearly and abruptly. No ill feeling would be meant but they’d rather upset us than face a collision!

We then went for a delicious dinner and chatted to our new found friends and before we knew it, we were off for our first trip on the boats. To say we were excited is a bit of an understatement. Joking and laughing we were driven down to the harbour we’d seen earlier in what can only be described as a makeshift minibus. I think the guides called it ‘Black death’ due to its antiquity and, shall we politely say, DIY seating. We didn’t care, we were off to see icebergs up close and personal and fulfil a lifelong dream. The drive was all of 1.5km and took about 3 minutes in total.

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“Black Death” in all its unreliable glory!

 

We waited patiently as the “Rusarc Aurora” pulled up to the jetty and we clambered aboard for the first time. The Rusarc is a 60ft yacht and built for navigation rather than guest comfort but again, we had no problem with that. It was 9pm, the 16 guests fitted on board comfortably and we were wrapped up warm. The seemingly late start time offered us the best photographic opportunities as the sun sets and rises early in the morning (1am for setting and 2am for rising) in this place 69° North well into the Arctic Circle.

We sailed south-west towards the biggest bergs we could see in the distance. When we got there we were just simply blown away. The icebergs are every bit as beautiful, stunning, odd, awe inspiring and down right gorgeous as we’d expected. But better. It’s one of those moments where there just simply are no words. Photo’s don’t do them justice no matter how hard you try. Being there, up close, feeling the cold breeze on your face, the colours, the sounds, the majestic beauty, is just almost too much for the senses to take in.

Several times on this trip we all said we’d had moments where we were quiet, sailing on the tranquil dark sea, drinking in the whole place. The whole ‘feeling’. If it’s not too poetic of me, I just don’t think I’ve ever been to a place more serene, a place where I felt so insignificant and yet so alive. It’s purely majestic in so many ways and totally addictive.

The bergs in front of us were absolutely massive. Huge chunks of calved ice, already sculpted by the sea, the wind and the slow but inevitable melt. At odd times we heard massive, thunderous roars in the distance. This was the bergs all around us calving and turning as the elements slowly take their toll. It was exciting, calming and base level natural.

 

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The mammoth size of these things is simply awe inspiring. I knew they were big as I’d seen the reports in the news the same as everyone else but when you see them, totally dwarfing our large yacht, you get to understand the scale of the glaciers that spawned them. The colours, the variety of shapes and sizes, WOW! Imagine then, being in this place for the first time, in an almost dream-like state, marvelling at the sights before us when, totally out of nowhere, someone shouts “Whale!”. This place just doesn’t stop giving. There we were, in the middle of all these enormous bergs when in front of us fluke’s a Humpback whale. Not once but several times. We’d barely been on the water an hour. This took me over the edge and I’m not too proud to say that my attempts at photographing this gorgeous beast were not too successful. Hels was almost a gibbering wreck as whale’s are her ‘thing’, Humps her favourite.

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Reluctantly, we sailed away and left ‘our’ whale to its own world. The weather wasn’t particularly camera friendly but we didn’t care. I pressed the shutter hundreds of times, the sky looking moody and overcast but not heavy. Each turn, each 100 yards of travel revealed a new beauty. We wondered at the spectacle before us and breathed in the sumptuous land/seascape. The light changed before our eyes, remaining overcast but subtly altering its hue every few minutes.

We popped below deck a couple of times for some warming tea and biscuits but couldn’t stay away for long. We couldn’t see the views from down there and didn’t want to miss anything. We stayed out for hours before everyone started to droop. A mixture of the excitement, the cold, the (for some) travel lag and lateness of the hour meant we had to return to base. We disembarked at around 1:30am with virtually no sign of a sunset/rise but still buzzing about our first encounter with this magical world. We wearily headed for bed and a well earned sleep before our next exciting day in the Arctic.

 Me with Ian enjoying warming tea and shooting on deck

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Exploring Ilulissat, Greenland (Part 2)

General, Photographs, Travel

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Epal Harpa, Reykjavik

 

Our trip began on the 1st Aug, very early in the morning. We’d booked an Easyjet flight to Reykjavik, Iceland from Luton taking off at 6:55am. In order to keep costs down, we didn’t stay overnight nearby so had to set off at stupid o’clock to make the flight. The Easyjet leg was the cheapest of our tour with no hand baggage limit on weight, so we patted ourselves on the back as we checked in, miraculously underweight for all our hold baggage (max 20kg).

We’d packed as if for a very cold snow holiday. Although the temperatures are not particularly icy at this time of year in West Greenland, they’re often still in single figures. We’d be sailing when the sun was very low and out on the water in the middle of an ice fjord! We layered up and packed our big goose-down overcoats just in case. We also packed hiking boots and lighter waterproofs to make sure we had everything covered.

Camera wise, I packed two bodies, a Canon 7D Mark ii and 5D Mark iv and the following lenses; Canon 70-200mm L f2.8,  Canon 24-70mm L f2.8, Canon 8-15mm L f4 (Fisheye), a 1.4x Canon teleconverter and Sigma Art 14mm f1.8. Manfrotto tripod with geared head and a Lee Filter set up (mainly for the polarising filter). With this kit, I felt I had everything covered. (I could have done without the fisheye but wanted to have a play. The rest of the kit was all used and proved to be very useful indeed).

Having a non-photographer travelling with us (Hels), meant we were able to spread the weight load of 2 people across 3 allowances, which was important for the 2nd leg (Air Iceland) of our journey! Air Iceland only allow 6kg weight limit on hand baggage, not easy for camera gear and requires careful packing!

We arrived at Reykjavik International Airport on time and proceeded to get a taxi to the city itself. Not the cheapest option but a convenient one (Keflavik is approximately 50km from Iceland’s main city).

As we’d a whole day to spare we decided to drop off our luggage at our overnight accommodation and head on out to explore the city. We’d plumped for a large B&B in the heart of the city that suited us perfectly. Accommodation gets booked up quickly during the summer months in Reykjavik so it pays to book early and shop around.

Reykjavik is a gorgeous, vibrant city, small enough to be friendly and personal but large enough to enjoy exploring. It manages to retain a genuine Icelandic culture whilst catering for most needs. It’s expensive but hey, it was nothing to what we were about to experience in Greenland. Our attitude when visiting this sort location is to save up beforehand and then not think about the cost of everything. It’s expensive comparatively, get over it and don’t spend your whole time moaning about it. It’ll spoil your trip. It’s a different culture, a different society that has different demands. It’s not a tourist rip-off, it’s the way it is, if you don’t like it, don’t go.

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We ate breakfast/lunch in a gorgeous cafe and wandered down to the waterfront to see the Epal Harpa, an architecturally unusual concert hall and then walked back up for the obligatory visit to Hallgrímskirkja, the modern but impressive Cathedral. We could have done much more but wanted to be fresh and ready for our expedition the following day so didn’t overdo it. The obligatory beer was in order though (to help us sleep!) so we stopped off at a street bar and watched the sun go down!

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We snatched an early night in preparation for our flight onto Ilulissat the following morning from Reykjavik’s Domestic Airport. This is thankfully almost in the city and only a very short cab ride away. By midday we were airborne and excited as we took off over the North Atlantic towards our final destination in a small, twin propped DASH.

The details of our itinerary:-

  1. 1st August – Easyjet flight from Luton to Reykjavik International (Keflavik)
  2. 1st August – Overnight in large B&B in Reykjavik
  3. 2nd August – Air Iceland flight from Reykjavik (Domestic) to Ilulissat
  4. 2nd/7th August – Arctic Hotel, Ilulissat
  5. 7th August – Air Iceland Ilulissat to Reykjavik (Domestic)
  6. 7th August – Overnight in large B&B in Reykjavik
  7. 8th August-  Easyjet from Reykjavik to Luton

Annoyingly the overnight stays in Reykjavik added to our costs but due to the flight times not coinciding, it was a necessary expense. However, the stop-over wasn’t wasted and formed part of the whole experience for us. All flights to Greenland are expensive and the only other option we had was to fly to Copenhagen and then to Greenland. Those flights still didn’t work time-wise for us and from the UK, would have been more expensive. Hand luggage on the Air Iceland flights are not only weight restricted but also a smaller size bag. Don’t try to beat this system as the overhead lockers are small and your bag won’t fit in them. The result, all your camera gear gets loaded into the hold!

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Rich boarding Dash 8-200, Reykjavik Domestic Airport

We had to watch the tickets for the Air Iceland leg as their website selected the cheapest fare. Nothing wrong with that but the different ticket types adjusted the luggage allowances quite dramatically so keep an eye out for that one!

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Note the small overhead lockers!

The flight itself was uneventful and relaxing and the views flying over Greenland (when we could see them through the cloud) were stunning and promised much. As we came in to land at Ilulissat, we could see Disko Bay and the ice fjord and to say we were getting excited is an understatement! We landed safely in light rain and proceeded to the little terminal to collect our luggage and hop onto the Hotel Arctic shuttle service.

Once we’d got into our rooms at the 4* Arctic Hotel, we went for a short walk around the grounds and down to the little (but packed) harbour before lunch. The rain had cleared providing us with gorgeous views. To say we were awe struck is an understatement. Our first steps on Greenland’s soil offered us views across Disko Bay and of real life icebergs. Proper, beautiful, sunlit icebergs! Wow!! We now couldn’t wait for our first day/night aboard our boat for the week…

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Ilulissat Harbour

 

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Igloo style pods available as rooms at the Arctic Hotel