Sunday, October 4, 2009

Called to the Bar

We've all thought it; taking photographs of day-to-day life for a blog is very much like quantum physics.

You know, where the observer effects the observed, and your quarry suddenly declines to act in the manner that made them blogworthy in the first place.

It's a problem for the diligent blogger, who simply wants to parade people's foibles on the internet for the innocent entertainment of others, and there's very little help on taking clandestine photos out there. You'd think there'd be evening classes or something. Maybe a government leaflet.

To avoid intrusion one must, like the most patient of natural history film makers, try and be as discreet as possible, blending into the background and taking your victim subject by surprise, preferably leaving them none the wiser for their participation.

Whilst a traditional hide would be perfect, it is quite hard to set up without arousing suspicion, so the wily blogger must resort to using the instinctive cunning for which they are renowned.

I have almost perfected the art of amateur blog photography, and it essentially involves holding a camera phone up to your ear and frowning thoughtfully, as though listening to an important message on the answer service, maybe from your doctor about that blood test you took last week, or perhaps it's your architect who's discovered the patio doesn't conform to local planning laws and you may need to find a different place to hide the bodies. Whatever, make your own imaginary recorded message up, just so long as you look like you believe it, because then so will they.

So will they.

Simultaneously, and at the same time, you must surreptitiously go through the overly-complex methodology the average phone utilises just to take a photo.

If you're actually using a camera, rather than a phone with a camera stapled to it, you should omit the holding up to your ear bit, as it looks mad. In this case, just ostentatiously take a photo and then wink at the subject. They like that.

Happily, I haven't got one of those phones that shouts "CLICK!" when you take a pic, which was apparently installed on many handsets due to an epidemic of upskirt photos being taken on Tokyo tube trains by sexually repressed Nipponese geeks. This is great for the blogger, as it means voyeuristic photos can be taken at will, although it also helps if you're not a great big pervert.

I'm not sure what the point of trying to take photos of ladies undercrackers is, as surely it would be better to befriend a lady, get to know her, start a romantic relationship and see if she'll show you her grollies voluntarily.

Takes a bit of time and effort, and you might have to reciprocate, but you get a result with only a minimal risk of being arrested. And there might be sex involved. With another person. Imagine that.

No, the subjects of my photographical expertise tend to be more esoteric. As Mrs The Jules said when she saw a photo of a load of spilled coffee-oid granules on my phone the other day; "You don't half take pictures of some strange stuff."

Yes, but they make sense to me at the time, and are often taken because they make a point, amuse me, pose a question or answer one.

For instance, whilst entering my local public house, The Woolpack, a place I confess to having visited before, I held the door to let a regular (well, more regular than me) punter in behind as he was struggling to get through. The cause of his strugglage was two-fold. First, he had reduced mobility, possibly due to a medical condition, but more likely because he's fried his nervous system from half a century on a strict high alcohol and nicotine regime. Secondly, he was carrying an empty bottle crate.

After letting him in, he stood for a moment, clutching his crate under his good arm (the one that gives to charity and doesn't fondle unasked. His bad arm does that) and surveyed the room, giving me chance to ponder the possible reasons for his bringing a dirty plastic box into the pub.

I wasn't going to ponder too hard, because the regulars in The Woolpack have been known to bring in stranger things, such as fox tails, shrimp nets and, occasionally, fleas. Besides, I reasoned, I would find out soon enough.

I recalled that his favourite seat is one of those high bar stools, and the seat of this stool is angled slightly forward as a result of years of heavy customers slumping. When he takes his place there, he often has to put up with a graceful sliding motion that most folk automatically adjust for during the course of the night. Unfortunately, his reduced mobility means that he's constantly slipping off it, necessitating an awkward clamber back on about eighteen times a night.

This spectacle stuck in my mind because it made me realise that the social aspect of being at the bar obviously outweighed his difficulty in staying on the stool, and sitting in one of the comfier, lower chairs would feel isolating to him. Instead, he would get on, slide off, grumble and get back on, he and The Stool like two adversaries in a war of attrition, or maybe a modern day version of the punishment of Prometheus, the only difference being Prometheus's liver was probably in better condition, even post-eagle.

I felt a little sorry for him as, between slides, he engaged anyone who approached the bar in muttered but enthusiastic conversation, and I wondered if all he needed was a friend, a confidante, an empathic and sympathetic other to whom he could turn so that he wouldn't have to rely on visiting the pub for that tiny spark of human interaction he so desperately craved.

Obviously, I wondered this from the other end of the bar whilst avoiding eye contact. He was pissed as a fart and talking about immigrants, so I wasn't going to humour the old soak.

Tonight though, as he swayed there, he sized up his old nememesisis, The Stool, with an air of quiet confidence. A watery glint in his eye proclaimed that he had both a battle plan and conjunctivitis. He strode, well, weaved his way to the bar and, with a flourish, implemented his (possibly patented) bar stool anti-slide system, by placing the crate on the floor so he could put his feet on it:

Thus was he successfully braced against the conspiracy between seat and gravity.

This time, when he slid off the stool, it was solely due to good old alcohol.


  1. *wipes away a tear*

    That was a moving story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, and also of ingenuity over rampant alcoholism.

  2. It sounds as if he needs more friction beneath the seat of his pants. Sandpaper might do it.

  3. It was a very strange man who invented the barstool. And I'm sure you're right that there's "a conspiracy between seat and gravity" - my arse is definitely nearer the floor than it used to be.

  4. The phone-to-ear technique (as opposed to the camera-to-ear technique which is intinsically flawed) is one of my favourites. The thing is, it is hard to get the shot right when you are looking through your ear and concentrating on sounding like you are having a real conversation. This usually results in me walking to and fro taking shot after shot and spouting more rubbish than your average reality-TV star.

  5. Soda and Candy - I'm looking forward to the royalites from the film. I envisage Dicaprio as the gravity defying stalwart, and Pitt as the background blending blogger.

    GB - It sounded like he already had, but that could also have been lack of a decent laundry routine.

    Gadjo Dilo - HAve you thought of cuban heels. Not to wear. I just like thinking about them.

    Mo - Whatever you rant about, put it in your blog!

    Urbane warrior - It was the silver cape and electric hat that did it.

  6. I see a moral in this tale dear friend:
    An unplanned fall is the result of failing to plan.


  7. S&C has summed up this post perfectly. I defer to her superior wit.

  8. I've tried the innocent act of social wouldn't call me a photographer though, in fact the only thing I did get called was "hey you in the bushes!"
    We have those bar stools here in Australia too, though we look at them quite differently to you. Here you know when you've had enough booze when you cant get back on the stool again, I'm guessing your friend had a hard day and wanted more than his usual 18 falls.

  9. U - You're absolutely right. That's why I always plan my falls with utmost diligence.

    Tennyson ee Hemingway - She does that.

    Pash - lol, I've often had to answer the old "Hey, you in the bushes!" hail. I like the idea of the bar stool as the alcoholics litmus.

  10. So that was what that dodgy-looking guy was doing with the mobile phone to the ear underneath the lady in the skirt. ;)

  11. So many things I can add... so I shall.

    I have often had to deal with that sliding off the bar stool thing. After the third fall, I just stand. When I can't stand anymore, it's time to go home.

    Have you tried turning his favorite stool 90 degrees just before he enters? Might be fun to watch.

    I used to take surreptitious photos. I won't say of what (or whom). I think charges may still be pending.

    Getting back to the bar stool issue and your, uh, friend's problem and solution, you now know why American bars have rails near the floor. Your pubs could have them also (along with spittoons) if you just overthrow your monarchy... as we did.

  12. One of these days I would love to see a blogger post picture of another blogger taking photographs of somebody else's day-to-day life for a blog. That has to be high on the metaphysical plane, right? I have finally jumped on the blogging photos for other people's enjoyment bandwagon for the first time in my blog actually. I feel as though something monumental has happened in my life.

  13. Eric - Ladies skirts make ideal hides for taking photos of things. Well, not mini-skirts obviously.

    Douglas - If we knew we'd get spittoons, we would have been a republic years ago!

    Lola - Then someone taking a photo of a blogger photographing a blogger photographing a blogger, and so ad infinitum.

  14. How did I miss this?!

    Gorilla beat me to it, but I was thinking the old fart needed some rubber tread on the seat of his pants. That or a weighted restraining device.

    Oh, and a reference to Prometheus's liver? That was beautiful. :-D


  15. Quite fancy shoes the guy is wearing. I think they were a more interesting choice than the box.

  16. Why haven't you commented back yet to the comment that I thought I posted but didn't? The nerve...

    My phone yells, "Run! Run as fast as your legs will carry you, away from this shameful voyeur woman!!"

    No, it doesn't, but I get so nervous taking candid photos that the click sounds like an atomic bomb.

  17. Pearl - A weighted restraining device? Ew.

    thinkinfyou - Hey, it was cold. Man needs his socks.

    Steamy - I can only apologise for my tardiness. I have a plan for the next time I'm caught taking . . . er . . . unexpected photos. I'm going to hold up a fake ID with the BLOGGER on it, in big red letters.

  18. Enjoyable reading fae start to finish.

    I have a little something for you, but I cannae seem to locate your email address. Enlighten me if you would be so kind sir.


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