Thursday, 5 September 2013

'He didn't know this world' ; What do you really know about the sea?

This morning (11th July, 2013) Natalie and I were talking on facebook and she linked me a facebook page sighting of a beached whale in my local town (I can't find the facebook page anymore but here's a news article on it). Curious, I clicked on the picture and I think my heart slowed down a little. I wasn't aware whales swam this close to the coast in the North Sea, but I was gravely mistaken. I stared at the man stood beside the mammal, showing what had happened. I remember reading, 'I was on a walk along the beach when...'. It was uploaded about an hour and a half ago. It would still be there.

My heart seemed to slow down and accelerate at the same time, and I couldn't move. I've never seen a whale face to...fin? Never with my own eyes. The first film I ever fell in love with was 'Free Willy' (even though orcas are technically a type of dolphin) when I was four or five. I still have a scrapbook from when I was six or seven years old where on one overcast spring day I made a poster for the WWF on donating money for protecting whales (quite impressed with my cetacean knowledge at that age - I listed Narwhale, Humpback, Northern Right Whale etc, with drawn pictures to match!). In my third year of high-school I did a presentation at school about Japanese and Norwegian illegal Whale hunting. Last summer in South Africa, I begged my mum to let me go on a whale-watching trip on a local boat but for one, it was R900 (I think it was about £60 at the time, the value of Rand isn't very stable) which was out of my price range, and she said it was "a waste of money". I settled on buying a postcard with a "South African Southern Right Whale" photoset. In short, I really like whales.

I only had a little time before people would intervene and either move the whale or section it off from public view, so I set off, my blood pumping. It was a long walk to where I thought the Whale was, and it turned out to be further down the beach than I had thought afterall. I walked through the cliffside, and found overly-friendly squirrels within camera distance (I only had my 50mm/ 1.8 lens on at the time, which was a big mistake) until a man listening to music rudely walked in front of me and scared all the animals away.

I walked past the spa and through the grassy hill that edges the shore on the far side of South Bay beach, where the tourists don't go. There were a lot of dog walkers and locals sitting on the hill and on benches, as it was good dog-walking weather (overcast but dry, low wind). I was starting to wonder if I had walked past the Whale as this stretch of beach ended; there are lots of rocks and scree between South Bay beach and Cayton Beach. Then I saw people walking down the hill. I saw people discussing the whale. I looked over the hill and saw nothing, but people were walking in turns down through the rock pools and round the headland. I decided to change lens. In my rush I didn't click it into place and my standard lens fell down the hill onto the scree. I actually screamed (which was embarrassing since there were a fair amount of people around) but when I went down to pick it up, it was undamaged except for a mild scuff on the side of the lens.

Once my lens seemed to be okay and was re-secured onto my camera I headed down a concrete path that finished half way and led to a tumultuous path of rocks and algae. An elderly man stood by the edge smiled at me and gestured through, "The whale is that way. You should keep to the rocks as much as you can to pick a path."

I had to climb/jump down the path onto the rocks and maneuvered through waves of slippery seaweed and water. I made the bad decision to wear ballet flats and soon enough my feet were soaked through.

On my way down I passed the RSPCA, the Sealife Centre people, the Scarborough Beach services, the RNLI services and the local police. Nobody seemed in any particular hurry. Behind me were locals and a few marine biology students from Leeds University.

I saw it from a way off. It didn't look much like a whale. When I did finally come to the animal, I was disappointed that it was cautioned off and surrounded by people. I didn't really know what I was expecting really, but the illogical, romantic in me wanted to take an artistic portrait with the whale. Instead as I approached, I thought of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, and the second book in particular that was all about the sea.

'Leaving the trees, he found himself on a narrow, curving beach of grey sand. At his feet, purple mounds of seaweed gave off a salty stink. To his left, great slabs of rock lay in chaos, as if shattered by a giant hammer. To his right, the Widewater flowed into the shimmering Sea.'

The whale probably wasn't fully grown; it was a Minke whale, and I couldn't believe this was the animal that the Japanese whale-hunters nearly hunted to extinction in the 1980's. It wasn't magnificent, it wasn't breath-taking. It was terrifyingly sad.

Its tongue was swollen and outside its mouth, its stomach almost to bursting point from gasses escaping the body, on its side, useless. Flies were surrounding its stomach and tail, the skin eaten away in most places, leaving the translucent layer between skin and meat. It didn't smell from the side I was on. It had died hours ago. I didn't know how, or why, and neither did anyone else. Everyone just stared at the whale. I brought my camera up to my face and almost took a picture before letting my camera down again. I felt kind of wrong, photographing this dead animal. I felt like I was exploiting the situation. It didn't feel right. I took a deep breath and walked down to the tail-end of the whale, and looked at it through my lens like a specimen. Instead of taking photos of a deceased and decomposing animal, I took photos to document this whale's condition. I've never seen a whale before. Here's a photo of a whale's stomach. Here's its tongue, its tail, its fin.

Later on, I found out it had died after being caught in lobster pot ropes; hence the damage to its tail. 

The whale was cautioned off at three sides, and its tail was attached by rope to a rock, presumably so when the tide came back in, the whale wouldn't wash up on the main beach, in front of the tourists' beach mats. Nobody was behind the whale, and I wanted to take a photo of its back, but the elderly lady beside me warned me about going on to that side. I ignored her. I walked behind the tail and up the beach to see the whale's rather flat dorsal fin and blowhole, but the smell made me physically stagger. This was why nobody was on this side! I've never smelt anything worse than that in my life. It smelt of rotten fish, like you find on a seaside town quay, but magnified by ten thousand. Breathing through my mouth had no effect, I could smell it still, quite bad. It seemed to penetrate my face, making my eyes water. I ran up to the back of the whale and took a quick look, shot a photo and ran back so I was upwind again. The elderly lady laughed at my expression. "Yes, it smells, doesn't it?"

Everyone was leaving. I was the only person who stayed for long. Teenagers, the elderly, families, all came up to the whale, said a few quiet words, stared for a few minutes and trudged back down the long rocky path on the beach. I went back to the last side, the one where its mouth was open, and instead of looking at parts, I saw it wholly. While taking photos I was looking at the whale in details; its tailfin, the skin in shreds, blood and blubber. I stepped back and looked at the whale as an animal again. And I saw its face. Its eyes were closed, its tongue lolled, laid onto its side. As if it was in pain, dehydrated, lost, on the surf and decided it should lie on its side, close its eyes and die. In one moment, I felt my heart clench as I thought about the whale as one would think of a person. I closed my eyes. I had to leave.

So I did. I was sad for the rest of the day. Nobody else seemed to understand. Once people heard about the whale, and how sad it was, the conversation would turn, and people didn't get why I was still pensive. Why I was only half paying attention. I couldn't stop thinking about the whale.

L x.

'A black fin broke the surface. He gasped. ... Another towering fin broke the surface. So that's a Hunter, thought Torak. Suddenly he heard a splash - and turned to see a column of spray shooting high into the air. The water became a chaos of flying foam and shattered sunlight.... For a moment a dark, shining eye met his. Then the Hunter arched its gleaming back and dived.'

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Thursday, 4 July 2013


Here are some edits that I made. They're not completely connected, and I'm also not sure where they fit into my flickr stream either... only the first one belongs in my Summer 100. Perhaps they belong in the comments section, or somewhere else in my stream. Together they sort of harbour the feelings I have had this summer:

Taken the 2nd July while packing to visit Stephen near Sheffield. 

Stephen from that day we went to the beach. 

An overlay technique I got from Sarah Haley Stewart

Unfortunately I don't have a cat, but Natalie and John have a cat that visits their place a lot. 

L. x 
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Saturday, 22 June 2013

I am longing to be with you, and by the sea, where we can talk together freely and build our castles in the air

A while back now my friend Katherine came up from Sheffield to see me. I never really had the thought processes lined up to blog about it properly at the time, but I think now's the time. Katherine unfortunately turned up late to my town due to delayed connections at York, which sent my mind racing in anticipation. She did eventually arrive, an hour later, and we dropped her stuff off at mine (her light packing sent me aback quite a lot - I usually pack half my flat to even go away for a weekend. I should be more like her, I decided). We set off into town and I showed her around the unimpressive shopping centre and charity shops (again nothing, which was rather disappointing. I was looking for an outfit and the charity shops usually provided such, but not today). After calling my friend Natalie for help, I bought a skirt that should last (if a little expensive for my budget) and we headed back home.

The next day we went to Whitby for a day out and my job interview. We managed to get on the bus and spent the next hour chatting about holidays and summer as the bus struggled through the hills of the Yorkshire Moors. Katherine told me she felt like she was on holiday as the location reminded her of when she went to the Yorkshire coast with her family, and it certainly felt like a holiday with duck-egg blue skies and warm air. When we got into the Whitby bus station (ha if you can even call it that) we grabbed sandwiches at the Co-Op and raced up the Abbey steps to my interview. Since last time I was at Whitby I must have got fitter because I managed the climb easier this time. While I was in my job interview Katherine explored St Mary's church and the cliffs surrounding it.

I didn't bother getting photos of the Abbey and the church, but in the future I will since there's quite something about reading about a place and actually visiting it. And here my love for Gothic Literature comes in: one fabulous thing about living in the area I do is that many of the authors in this genre used to live around here. The Brontë' family, perhaps the most famous example. Anyway, according to Whitby town records (thanks to Natalie for this treasure) Bram Stoker, the author of the most famous vampire novel in history, Dracula (Sadly Edward Cullen may rival this fact) stayed here for only a couple of days, but based half of his novel in the town. Having read the novel excitedly (it really picks up pace when the story is stationed in Whitby) I saw the Abbey as a slight disappointment. Having pictured the scene in dark, ominous weather with luxurious thorned  roses entwining themselves between cracked headstones, and the Abbey's spires touching the clouds - well reality was quite different. The graveyard was clean, orderly and trimmed, the Abbey certainly tall but not at all scary looking, and the church was fairly ordinary. Perhaps it was the too-bright sunlight, but it didn't seem quite such a dangerous place to set a horror story in (I've had this visualising problem before, years ago; I went on a school trip to Ypres and visited WWI and WWII graves, including Tyne Cot and Menin Gate and struggled to take in the magnitude of massacre by the very hot weather and happy students around me). I wanted to visit the bench in the story of Dracula, the one the 'crazy' man sits on in the novel when Mina visits - and more importantly, the very one Bram Stoker sat on while ruminating on plot points of his story - when to my horror I discovered a coastal landslide had sent the bench cascading down into ruins. It had happened a week or two before I first visited Whitby, so probably early May, so I went right up to the cautioned off wire fence and peeked through, trying to imagine it there. It was kind of hard, and everything I had expected of Dracula's setting seemed incorrect.

However, I couldn't remain sad for long because Whitby is such a quaint and interesting town. Katherine and I went in and out of many kitsch and touristy shops, picking and glancing over products. At around three or four o clock we went to Marie Antoinette's Cafe, the only one I was familiar with (Natalie and I went in there last time). To my dismay, I forgot about Katherine's nut allergy and she couldn't try any of the cakes I had been boasting about, but she contented herself with a scone with cream and jam so that was fine. While we were gabbing I got a phone call - I had been accepted for the job. I couldn't keep the smile off my face (Well in between bouts of anxiety about it all).

Katherine only stayed for three days, so we slowed things down and hung out in our pyjamas until mid-afternoon. I felt bad for not taking her to the beach so we set off to the seafront only, to my chagrin, to meet the sea - the tide was in. Not being able to touch the sand we walked around the Spa and stopped at the pavilion, looking out to sea, to take photos. Katherine has such beautiful, long hair I had to take photos of her! It was nice to take photos with someone because even though we had the same scene, our photos came out so different.

On our way back we took photos of flowers in the park and then Katherine packed up and caught the train back home.

L x
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Monday, 3 June 2013

Rock Pools

The weather has been really good to us lately and has stayed sunny and warm for a few days. My boyfriend Stephen and I went to the beach for a couple of hours. The tide was coming in, but we had caught it as it was out, so there was no rush to get back to shore. In among the bladderwhack-seaweed there were limpets, tiny fish and shrimp and clusters of barnacles and sea-moss. Our feet picked between these parts onto the dry rock so that we didn't slip over, and while Stephen jumped between pools and crevices I went around them the long way, holding my camera up in protection.

(sooc: might edit this later and upload it to flickr.)

Will most likely upload the one of myself onto flickr soon. Hope you're also enjoying the summery sunshine in the UK. 

L x

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Friday, 31 May 2013

sea life

The other day Natalie and I went to the sea life centre and it was pretty ace. On the way there we were attacked relentlessly by these awful fly things and it was really horrible walking all the way up to North Bay and having insects go into your eyes, down your top, hitting your face.

(sooc: Natalie at the beach huts)

We arrived a lot later than we had intended and only had an hour - and then we were stopped, much to my mortification, to pose in front of a camera and pretend to be scared of a crab, so they could add in a lame layer to buy as a souvenir. Once that was over it was okay though, and we saw so many cute little baby rays, puppy-like seals, smelly penguins and a humongous, brain-damaged turtle. 

It was quite hard to take photos indoors I found, since the marine animals tended to be too quick for manual focus, but auto-focus was being awful. So in the end I switched between the two a lot and hoped for the best. End result was a lot of blurry photos!

(sooc: fish -I never remember species names)

(sooc: penguin)
(sooc: natalie in the sea tunnel)

Apparently you can have sleep overs in the sea tunnel (pictured above) where you can watch all the sharks and fish swim above your head, which I would imagine would be pretty cool and also super weird. I did love the aquariums but everything smelled of rotten fish and there was sadly a small rescued seal with a neck injury (must have been caught in a net :c) which reminded me how important local and international conservation is. 

L x

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I thought I'd start a photoblog with outtakes and additional content without cluttering up my flickr account. 

I've been considering it a while since so many other people have them and it would be cool to show more photos that don't really "fit" into my flickr photostream. 

Sew-my-life-back-together was a url that I initially laughed at, but sadly reflects how I actually feel. I'm a perfectionist, and don't always get things how I want them to be, so this blog is an outlet for that boxed in feeling. 

Anyway, enough of that, hope you enjoy 

L x
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