Thursday, August 28, 2014

Photo art made simple with Photoshop

Doctoring images with Photoshop is probably sometimes viewed with suspicion or even contempt by purist photographers, considering what can be done to less than ideal images, although avoiding PS completely is surely rare. I have fairly recently discovered how easy it is to create some fun "photo-art".

Dream-night in Table Bay

This image was taken on board the sailing ship Europa when she was visiting Cape Town and I was lucky enough to spend time sailing in Table Bay. The night-time effect adds a dreamlike quality.

Greenland Anchorage

The image at right was taken while on a cruise around Greenland aboard a small expedition ship, the Grigoriy Mikheev, which is seen anchored in a fiord while we went ashore for a walk in nature.

Etheric Zebra

This image was taken in the Kruger National Park.

Bird in Tree

The black-headed oriole was photographed in our garden at Keurboomstrand near Plettenberg Bay, South Africa.

Charlotte and Annabelle

My twin grandchildren.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My first time on a big tree planting site

The coral trees arrive on the building site.
I am on a big landscaping site on a very expensive piece of real estate where a very large and expensive holiday house is being built for a very wealthy owner, overlooking Robberg Beach in Plettenberg Bay. Three large coastal coral trees, two slightly smaller than the other, are being offloaded for strategic placement on the site. This requires a large crane truck which is costing a large amount per hour.

The conference.
I think it’s the first time I have had to wear a hard-hat, put in my hands by Charles Reitz, so this is obviously an important job on a big building site (there are about 20 bricklayers alone) and Charles, his landscape designer Wendy Sanderson-Smith and site manager Michael Strickland are all wearing looks which show a combination of excitement and concern. They have been planning and working very hard from an early hour in a demanding business.

Kasey leads the operation.

One of the big concerns is the maximum reach of the crane, which is going to be needed in order to hoist the big coral tree into position across the edge of the building under construction.

The strain is showing. Wendy lights a cigarette and Michael lights his pipe. Then quick as a flash Wendy is up on a vantage point, offering advice which obviously comes from years of study and experience. Later, she takes me on a quick tour of the site office and the building drawings all over the walls. She obviously knows what she’s looking at and tells me without a hint of irritation that her entire apartment, apart from one chair, is covered with similar drawings. She is dedicated, as are Charles and Michael. 

The three trees have to be located in exactly the right positions, marrying their natural prerequisite with the soil profile, and for the exact needs of the client. Kasey Voges, the expert from Trees South Africa – a remarkable company which supplies full grown trees – who has supervised the offloading by the crane truck, is huddled with Charles and Michael near the spot where a very tall tree has to be put in the ground, but it’s an impossibly steep spot, and, remember, this is all dune sand (with a lot of thick bush which will hopefully bolster the tree).

When asked if all this is sustainable, (his landscape division is called SustainaScapes) Charles replies: “If this area received more rainfall, this is a highly probable type of vegetation that would be found here.”  

Ideas are bounced around, compared and combined, doubted and then reinstated. Eventually it’s time to go – until the big moment comes…

Charles and Wendy.
A few days later… The crane truck is back and the largest of the three coral trees is being manoeuvred into its hole, thanks to Kasey’s unwavering supervision, the crane operator’s skill and a team of alert men from TSA cleverly erecting a slipway of timber and steel while an RTC man operates a winch which moves the tree towards its destination centimetre by centimetre. Charles and Wendy have again jumped up onto their vantage point, while Michael is down with the men.

Eventually it’s time to leave the site again, but I’m going to be right back, so I walk off with one of the builder’s stock hard-hats with the word Visitor across the front still on my head. One of his men, who looks as though he carries some rank, stops me before I can start my car. “Are you coming back?” he inquires somewhat sternly. Of course, I reassure him, I wouldn’t fail to come back. OK, he’s happy with that, so I can go.

When I return the trees are in place. What a miracle. Not only the coral trees, but a nine-metre tall strelitzia has been placed at the spot where the earnest conference took place, in a neat sandbagged hole, no problem.

These guys are good, hey, very good.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A charming wedding in the Natal Midlands

Pippa and Alex (fourth and fifth from left) with bridesmaids and groomsmen.
There is surely no better excuse for an unscheduled holiday than a wedding in the family, in this case my son Alex marrying Pippa, daughter of Andrew and Lynda Smythe of Pietermartzburg, at a charming occasion in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. It all happened at a dedicated wedding venue called Orchards which provides accommodation (for close family and friends) in comfortable thatched lodgings, a chapel and entertainment facilities.
The bride and groom of course looked gorgeous and left me misty-eyed as they took their vows with Reverend Jacques Pretorius, Pippa’s uncle.
Anna (top) and Charley (above) stole
the hearts of the congregation.
All wedding photos courtesy Ian Thomas
My daughter Melissa read the lesson with her baby son Adam on her hip, charming the congregation with his cuteness. Master of ceremonies and musician James Hendry joined Alex and his co-groomsmen Boyd Varty and Renias Mhlongo in the church and all of them looked superb in their matching outfits. The two families produced almost the entire line-up of the six lovely bridesmaids and flower girls.

The speeches in the dining hall by James, with his infectious sense of humour, Alex, his father-in-law Andrew, Boyd and Renias - speaking in English and Shangaan (translated by James) - were all outstanding. Boyd has had international speaking experience around the recent publication of his memoir Cathedral of the Wild which deals with extraordinary experiences at Londolozi and elsewhere; and Alex too, with his motivational talk with Renias called The Power of Relationships, based on their experiences together, also at Londolozi and elsewhere. In fact the whole event had a strong Londolozi element with the presence of Dave Varty, CEO of the famous private game reserve, his wife Shan, their daughter Bronwyn and her husband Richard. Alex and Pippa are closely associated with Londolozi and are resident there.

After the wedding Estelle and I joined my brother and sister-in-law Philip and Cathy, and sister and brother-in-law Diana and Duncan at Champagne Valley, a beautiful Drakensberg resort, thanks to Di and Duncan, with sorties to places of interest in the area, including the local polling station. On the way there we spent a night at Nottingham Road, with dinner at the famous pub at Rawdon’s Hotel. My chicken salad was the tastiest meal I have had for a long time and the craft beer a welcome relief from the lites we had somehow stocked ourselves up with for the trip. The next morning we met Simon and Cheryl Blackburn at their lodge Three Trees at Spioenkop, where Phil and I had stayed some time back and were keen to revisit.

Duncan and Diana at Champagne Valley
These days Simon does the battlefield guiding himself, starting with a lesson in the lounge of the lodge on the historical background, followed by an audio description of the build-up to the Boer War in the shuttle vehicle, and then a presentation on location of the actual battle on top of the mountain – a vicious event which lasted all night and all day on 23 and 24 January 1900, leaving hundreds on both sides dead and wounded. The British soldiers who took the full force of the Boer cannons and rifle fire were left in mass graves, today covered by white stones at the edge of the mountain. Simon’s delivery of the story is nuanced and dramatic, sounding familiarly Churchillian at times!
On our outings in the Berg we saw a breathtaking display of the raptors at Falcon Ridge birds of prey centre run by proprietors Greg and Alison. They showed their magnificent birds, including a black eagle, fish eagle and giant spotted eagle owl flying into the blue yonder and returning with impressive landings after a loud call skyward from Greg or Alison. The black eagle did his landing right towards us, reminding me of a jet fighter, lowering his substantial curved flaps and feet like wheels at just the right altitude, before landing gracefully.

This was followed by a marvellous lunch at Champagne Castle Hotel with its wonderful views of the Drakensberg from close up, compliments of our friend and owner of the hotel, Stanley Cohen of Constantia in Cape Town.

The view from the Champagne Castle Hotel in the Drakensberg.