Tuesday 20 December 2011

Cheers to Gregor Scholz – A farewell

From Wordle-images

This Sunday, I received the sad news that Gregor Scholz of Bestwinus had passed away. This struck a particular chord as Gregor’s visit to the UK was one that I remember well.

Gregor was a shining example of how determination and self-belief can help you achieve your goals in life.

The idea was to visit some of the premium wine purchasers amongst the top class hotels and restaurants in London to raise interest in Bestwinus’s first class fruit wines, brewed and quality controlled by Gregor himself.

Before he arrived in the UK, we had great fun trying to find English equivalents for his imaginative fruit wine names – from Autumn Flame (a rose-hip wine) to Druid’s Magic (a cider). I do not drink but I was fascinated nonetheless.

Gregor’s passion for brewing had come at an early age, through his father, I believe. He would only use the finest ingredients and had expanded to create wines from fruits as exotic as prickly pear and drinking vinegars from beetroot (something we later learnt as of great potential to the Far Eastern market).

When he landed in Gatwick, I had made all sorts of preparations because I heard that he was almost blind. I needn’t have worried. He came with a friend to accompany him but Gregor coped just fine. I soon forgot about his “disability” as we confidently moved through the bustling metropolis that is London. What else should I have expected from a man who single-handedly brewed, bottled and labelled his own elite vintages!

At meetings, he would bring out his sample bottles and arrange them in order ready for the presentation and from there on he was off the starting line - professionally offering samples and discussing the finer flavours with top wine buyers, chefs and Cocktail experts alike. Martin Straus, a UK wine expert accompanied us on all our visits and we all made an excellent team as we moved from venue to venue.

It was only when we had walked to the Dorchester through half of London, because it was easier than braving the traffic, that Gregor’s companion pulled me to one side and said “you do realise he has a heart problem!” that we understood that he was even more remarkable than we had originally thought. That extra bag with the discreet white tube leading under his jacket was his portable life support.

As I said I do not drink, so the most memorable moment for me was when we visited one of London’s renowned cocktail bars. The conversation and tasting by the resident Cocktail expert had almost finished when he asked for another one or two samples and then invented a cocktail using Gregor’s wines as a flavour on the spot. A visual feast, even I had to taste them.

At the end of our visit, Gregor, his companion and I relaxed in an upmarket Indian restaurant, overlooking one of the renovated yachting docks on the Thames. I asked Gregor “How did you come to run your own successful business?”

“Well,” he replied with aplomb and a smile “Once I’d finished my education, I realised that any potential employer would just see my health issues and write me off on the spot. So I thought I would do what I had always enjoyed, making high quality fruit wines, and make a success out of it!”

I am saddened by his passing away but also feel privileged to have met him.

I raise my glass in your memory Gregor, you have been an inspiration!

Monday 19 December 2011

Why do Robin & Holly feature at Christmas and other facts

Merry Christmas!

This year, I was inspired to paint a robin with holly leaves and berries - a traditional motif, though in Victorian times, the robins were occasionally portrayed as dead, with delightful messages such as "Sweet messenger of calm decay".

So why is the robin an enduring feature of UK Christmas cards? Here are three possible explanations.
  1. It is a distinctive native bird overwintering in the UK;
  2. Local mythology is that a robin landed on Christ’s head and tried to remove the crown of thorns, splattering his blood on its breast.
  3. Victorian postmen wore red and also delivered on Christmas day, becoming affectionately known as “Robins”.
For even more explanations, see http://christmas-celebrations.org/202-robin.html

Holly has a long tradition – beginning with its association with the Roman “Saturnalia”. In the UK, the Celts used holly as a protection against evil spirits by placing it around their houses. I did find one reference claiming that the holly was also used to provide a home for fairies(!) Holly was then taken into Christian symbolism, possibly representing Christ’s crown of thorns and blood.

With my personal and business interests linking the UK and Germany, what are our Christmas connections?

Whilst we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, the German Christmas greeting is Frohe Weihnachten und einen guten Rutsch, which translates as Merry Christmas and a Good Slide (into the New Year).

Christmas Markets were popular in the UK until Oliver Cromwell banned them, along with Christmas . They remained a German tradition – and have become a tourist attraction for visitors from the UK. The combination of wooden stands, gluehwein (mulled wine), gingerbread hearts and Christmas decorations is a major introduction to the festive season. German Christmas Markets are being introduced in the UK but are as yet pale imitations of the real thing. However several cities are intending to improve the offer in coming years.

We also have the German’s to thank for the tradition of the Christmas tree. It was introduced to the Royal family by George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in the early 19th century and later became popular due to its adoption by Queen Victoria.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Nine points learnt photographing the Cambridge Public Sector Strike Action March

The 30th of November promised to be the largest Public Sector strike action for a considerable period in Britain and a direct reaction to austerity measures and revised pension plans in this sector. In the current economic crisis, it could be pivotal – either in being the start of a future change in British economic policy or as the swansong of resistance to the reduction of the public sector.

At this moment in time, I had an opportunity to see and record such an event in the shape of the local marches planned in Cambridge. Not having done this before, it was a new photographic challenge and learning experience. Consequently, I did not sleep very well the night before! I learnt and applied nine principles to improve my chances of success.

I had checked out the potential Cambridge events online and decided to start with the feeder march starting at Shire Hall, Castle Hill, apparently starting at 10am. The route to Parker's Piece was not given.

I arrived early (9:30am) and introduced myself to the police, making clear that  I was participating as a photo exercise.  No problem. The police also gave me information on the planned route and were approachable throughout the event.

I then introduced myself to the union stewards marshalling the event, again removing any concerns on my part re being able to participate as a photographer and getting some additional information.

Protesters started arriving in dribs and drabs initially. They represented a range of unions, from the NUT to Unite, Unison, ATL, UCU and AWS. Again they too were open and friendly as conversations began. The overall atmosphere was a positive festival air. I was surprised at the diversity of unions present. This was due to the revival of the Trades Council Cambridge over the past year, which organised and coordinated the days event with all the different public sector unions.

I had brought along both my SLR and an SDR camcorder, with the aim of taking both stills and video if possible. When the march got under way shortly before 11am, this proved to be a good choice as the video could capture the movement of the procession and the sound. The stills photos could be to pick out details, faces, features etcetera in-between.

The atmosphere of the march and the conversations that I had during it with police and protesters were very positive in tone through-out. This meant that I was comfortable with photographing and recording from both within the march and without. As a PC had stated, the pace of the march was quite leisurely, so I could get ahead, take pictures or video, wait for the march to engulf me and then go to the side for more recording, join in walking and talking with members of the crowd afterwards. I did not express opinions and remained impartial, but interested.

It was in this way that I also learnt of the real diversity of people there – of course primarily from all parts of the public sector. But there were also ex patients, families or others who felt a strong affinity with the objectives of the marchers. Children had been brought along too, from those in push chairs, to 6 to 12 yr olds, to one or two politically aware teens.

When the feeder march reached Parker’s Piece, there were speeches and the wait for the Addenbrookes feeder march to arrive. Then the combined mass that had swollen to several thousand set out to march through the centre of Cambridge and then back to Parker’s Piece for the last set of political speeches. This meant that I was constantly either recording or looking for photo opportunities during the full 5 hours, with little opportunity to check what I had taken.

I was therefore grateful that I had pre-prepared my SLR such that it could either be used on automatic setting, or on fixed aperture pre-set at f8 or on fixed shutter speed at 1/400s. I left the ISO setting on automatic. I did not have to think much and could just point and shoot. Since it was a sunny day, light was not an issue for exposure, however there was a risk of glare or burning of highlights on faces at some points along the route.

It was only when back in the office that I could take time to look at the material and select what to keep, how to edit and what to discard.

Watching TV reports on other demonstrations in larger cities made me realise that following the Cambridge event was a good move. It was large enough to have an atmosphere but manageable enough that I could for example get close to the speakers on Parker's Piece.

The nine take home messages from this exercise were:

  1. Check out the event in advance as best you can
  2. Prepare your photographic equipment in advance for fast shooting
  3. Arrive early at the event and talk to the police/marshalls/officials/participants about the event
  4. Treat people with respect
  5. Be impartial.
  6. Be prepared to move away from trouble quickly, should it arise.
  7. Take notes of names and participants if you can, to add value to your work..
  8. Where possible, record views from both outside and from within the demonstration.
  9. Take lots of pictures to optimise the chances of success.

You can see the photographs here: http://goo.gl/ljZ9s
And the video here: http://youtu.be/As0ua7oGwZ0