And you think France is screwed up?

Recent news regarding car parking charges for employees at a large UK hospital made us (ie; expats living in France) sit up and listen.

A large hospital somewhere in the UK has 6000 people working for it – sadly there are only 1300 parking places, for employees and visitors,  so quite a number park illegally – just to go to work. The company employed by the hospital to manage the car parks has finally decided to take to court all the people who have parked illegally over the years, resulting in claims of £128,000 for some of the nurses, who up until now have simply ignored the tickets. This basically means that some people will be obliged to sell their their houses to pay parking fines.

If this situation were ever to occur in France, the hospital would have been closed long ago – we don’t pay for visitors parking here, so there’s no-way the actual employees are ever going to pay to park. In very large hospitals there is generally a shuttle bus, or nearby metro (as the largest hospitals are generally in or near large cities) and park-and-ride schemes. So why does this situation exist in the UK?

Well one reason is that the hospitals are now run by accountants – who see parking as a money-making opportunity – and as soon as they employ a third party management group to organise this, ‘reasonable’ goes straight out of the window.

Another example of ridiculous reasoning is happening at the BBC – it seems that they now have to publish the salaries of their ‘top’ earners, and these people are rightfully feeling that there will be a backlash from the ‘commoners’ who pay the licence fee, and thus, their salaries.

Here is an example:

Credit: Getty Images

It seems that this is a ‘Chris Evans’ – no-one has been able to tell me what it does, or even what it might be good at, but it seems the BBC pay £2,25 million a year for the priviledge of having one. I have heard that it’s a pretty nasty piece of work, and stamps it’s feet when it doesn’t get it’s own way – I can do that too, but I can guarantee I’ll be cheaper – all I’ll need is a reserved parking place at Broadcasting House and I’ll be there. I’ll leave you my number…



Anybody who has visited Auch will know that we have a statue of one of Alexandre DUMAS creations d’Artagnan. While the stories of « Les Trois Mousquetaires » are fictional, DUMAS was inspired by the memoires of Charles de Batz de Castelmore (born in Lupiac, Gers around 1611,) on which to base his fictional personage.

Auch has recently spent a large sum (of predominantly American money…) to restore the Monumental Staircase which leads from the lower town (Basse ville) to the upper town (Haut ville) where the statue of d’Artagnan can be found on the first landing (climbing up from the lower town)

On the fourth landing (from the bottom) can be found the memorial for the tragic flooding that occurred in Auch in 1977 where six people died. Designed by Jaume PLENSA « L’Observatoire du temps »  is interestingly one of his earliest commercial works.

Another of his sculptures « l’Abri Impossible » is situated not far from the lower end of the monumental staircase, on the  banks of the Gers.

Bastille Day

The 14th of July – Bastille Day – is a very popular day here in France – not only is it ‘férié’ (we don’t work) but there are generally ‘things’ going on like firework displays etc. Generally a good excuse to get out and drink heavily…

Here our day started comparatively early at 11h35 when four Rafale jets returning from the military celebrations over Paris, overflew the centre of Auch on their way home to the airbase at Mont de Marsan. I was perched on a hill overlooking the city, with a long lens on my camera – I knew they would probably fly at an altitude of around 300m, but had no way of accurately measuring this…so I guestimated…

For the past three years the fireworks display has been held right in the centre of the lower part of the city, along the river Gers. This year was no exception, and although I would have like to be up-close, decided to return to ‘my’ hill – with a bit of luck I might be able to get some images with the display and the cathedral in shot.

(Interestingly, if you enlarge the first image you can see people lining the Escalier Monumentale in the centre of Auch to watch the display)

I’ll get closer next year…

« Oscillation »

This is the title of the current exhibition at the Château d’Eau in Toulouse. I visited, with my two English friends, this weekend and found it annoying.

The sub-title to the exhibition is « Reflet de la collection du Château d’Eau » (Reflection of the Chateau d’Eau collection) and it’s annoying because I would really have liked to have seen more of some of the artists represented!

Arthur Tress had three images in the selection (I know and appreciate his work) but often the artists only had one image and this isn’t enough to be able to form an opinion – it could be an example of their best, or worst work. Anyway, it was worth the effort to go and see- here are a few examples.

It runs until the 3rd September 2017.


This weekend was a complete surprise – well, I’ll amend that slightly – the weekend itself was not really a surprise – it sort of arrived, as usual, just after Thursday and Friday – but what happened this weekend was the surprise.

My daughters and girlfriend, after months of scheming, managed to organise a ‘boys’ weekend here in Toulouse with my two oldest friends from the UK!! After dragging a heavy suitcase halfway around Toulouse, we eventually climbed a huge three-floor spiral staircase – a knock on the door, which was opened not only by my daughters (who we were not supposed to see for a few weeks ), but also G and R whom I haven’t seen for over 12 years – I almost cried!! (Sadly no-one recorded the look on my face when the door opened!!)

The girls had managed to convince these guys to fly over for the weekend! After a very pleasant evening, some delicious food in a really excellent tapas bar (where we were able to take our own wine – nothing like a little M-R to wash down a plate of ‘patatas’ – we staggered back to the flat where we were informed that the girls were leaving for their own weekend in Auch – and we were left with several bottles of wine, a very decent scotch and loads of nibbles! I think we managed to get to bed before 3am…

This is the salon of the huge, three bedroom flat (thanks to Air B’n’B) we were staying in just on the Place Esquirol in Toulouse.

The Saturday dawned with a series of ‘Missions’ before us – we had to visit an Irish pub and bring back some beer mats, take a selfie in front of the Capitole, a group photo in a Photomaton etc.

Wonderful time had by all – despite the ridiculous pictures – I can only thank everyone for their implication – and imagination. Luv ya!

More on the IRIX 11mm f/4

Sadly the weather has decided to be grotty at the weekend (when I’m available) and then get better during the week (when I’m not), so I’ve yet to be able to get out and really test this lens – however, here are a few comments from the little use I’ve been able to put it to:

This is the Firefly version (the cheapest!) which doesn’t have a metal outer body and glow-in-the-dark scales etc. The body has a very smooth, nicely tactile plastic surface, with a permanently fixed lens hood. The lens cap cleverly clips onto ridges on the inside of the two smaller ‘petals’ of the lens hood. The focusing is very smooth, and the focus lock a very good initiative – given that for the most part I’ll be using the hyperfocal distance* to focus, it’s very useful to be able to lock the focusing ring so that it doesn’t move when I’m moving the camera.

The lens itself is fairly hefty at over 700g, and the huge domed front element is well protected by the lens hood – it’ll be interesting to see if third-party lens hood manufacturers like Fotodiox will eventually come out with a system (similar to the one they market for the 14-24mm Nikon) for this lens. (Which would also enable filters, like a circular polarizer, to be used)

Probably the most oft-used filter with this kind of lens is the ND (Neutral density) and here IRIX scores points by building in a gelatin filter holder behind the rear element. I’ve received the gelatin filter pack (below) and will be trying this out when I go into the Pyrenées again back to the Gorgues d’Asque and up onto the river.

I have taken a few very hasty shots and aside from the incredible ‘width’ (which can only really be measured by comparison with images from the same point but taken with different focal lengths) I can only really comment on lens flare.

With a reduced point source (sun high during the day) the flare is very well handled.

However, when the point source appears larger (sunset, for example) the resulting flare is very noticeable:

This ‘apparent size’ is obviously due to the level of humidity in the air, and also the fact that the sun is further away at sunset than at midday.

In terms of field of view, here are two examples, the first taken with a 16mm Nikon, and the second with the 11mm IRIX – both images taken from the same position.

IRIX have made available a series of lens corrections for Lightroom, for both the 11mm and 15mm lenses, and these seem to correct very well. For obvious reasons, when using ultra-wide angle lenses, the most important aspect is to have the camera completely level. This is obviously made easier by the artificial ‘horizon’ mechanisms in modern reflex cameras, in addition to using the Lightroom corrections, images show remarkably well corrected verticals.

I am looking forward to further test this amazing lens, and despite the lens flare, I feel it was a good investment for someone who loves extreme wide angle lenses. (But then I would say that…)

*Hyperfocal distance – this is the distance at which, for a given aperture, a lens will render sharp images from infinity back to a meter (or less) in front of the lens. Ultra-, and extreme-wide angle lens have an extended depth of field, due to their design, and this can make focusing extremely difficult looking through the viewfinder. It is often a great deal easier to simply set the lens at it’s hyperfocal distance and set the corresponding aperture on the camera. This lens has a hyperfocal distance scale.

Daniel Maigné – Flaran

Daniel Maigné has been invited back to the Abbey of Flaran with a new exhibition entitled « Cathédrale (s) ». He was last there 8 years ago with the initial exhibition of the « Profondeur de Champs » series which he helped get off the ground, and continues as a yearly event inviting different artists each year.

The opening night was last night – and I was invited. (It helps that I know the artist of course…)

Daniel lives in a house a short distance from the Cathedral in Lombez, and a window on the second floor of the house looks out on the imposing 13 century  cathedral tower. Over a number of years, he has built up a catalogue of images, all based on the shape and form of the tower, across the seasons, and this work was presented yesterday.

I found the exhibition beautiful, and well balanced (not too much, just enough) and would recommend a visit (to anyone living in the department at least!) As for the image below, much of the glass in Daniels windows is original and more than 300 years old. In this triptych the focus was on the glass, rather than the tower.

Despite what my iPhone picture might make you think, this is not a composite image – it was taken from the far side of his house, and the black bars are the wood in-between the original glass window panes dating from the period of Louis 14th.


It was the end-of-year fête at our nieces primary school today – the kermesse is a French tradition and must not be missed – her primary school groups children from 2 districts and so there were nearly 100 children present – now multiply that by parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents etc. Seemed like thousands of us packed into the school hall…

This image is from the end of Louna’s (our niece) activity – she wisely decided she was safer inside the tube!

One more year and she’ll be in secondary school – time is flying…