Posted in Family, Personal life, Travel, Writing

Old-fashioned Cameras vs the Smartphone – or Why Less is More with Holiday Snaps

In my column for the July/August edition of the Tetbury Advertiser, I ponder the dilemma of taking too many summer holiday snaps in the age of the smartphone and am nostalgic about the rarity value of photographs taken with the old-fashioned cameras of my childhood

Laura and Grandpa on the beach writing in the sand
Possibly my favourite holiday snap of all time: Laura with my dad on the beach at Mousehole

Lights – Camera – Inaction

Passport – check. Tickets – check. Currency – check. Camera – er, no, actually. These days, I don’t even possess a camera, having transferred my photographic loyalties to my smartphone, for several reasons. Firstly, it means one thing less to carry. Secondly, it means one thing less to remember. (Always good news once you get to a certain age.) Thirdly, as if by magic, the photos from my smartphone are automatically uploaded to cloud storage, so I don’t even have to do anything to get them onto my computer.

The downside is that I now have a vast number of photos up there in the ether that I’ve completely lost track of. Even so, I still snap everything in sight when I’m on holiday, because it’s free and easy to do.

Scarcity Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Photo of Instamatic camera gift set
(Photo by Carsten Corleis – Own Work. Photographed with a ‘Praktica Luxmedia 4008’ digital camera, CC BY-SA 3.0)

What a change from my childhood, when I had one of those new-fangled Instamatic cameras. Remember them? The film came in an easy-to-load drop-in cartridge, so you no longer had to feed it into a spool inside your camera in a darkened room. It was the most democratising development (if you’ll excuse the pun) since the introduction of the Box Brownie, making photography more accessible and affordable for the untechnical masses. If you needed a flash, you popped a little cube on the top of the camera containing four bulbs, burning your fingers when you removed it after use. Well, one must suffer for art.


Latter-Day Rationing

The only big decisions were whether to choose film for slides or for prints – slides were a big thing in those days, and I had a small battery-lit box on which to view them – and whether to opt for twelve pictures, twenty-four, or, if you were feeling flush, because processing costs were in proportion to the number of pictures, an extravagant thirty-six picture film. On a pocket-money budget, I’d eke out one film for a holiday, rationing myself to a picture or two a day. Occasionally I’d have spare pictures to take when I got home. Films came with use-by dates, after which they’d start to degrade, so sometimes there’d be a mad rush to take the last few shots before a film expired.

The Unavoidable Lens of Digital Cameras

To my daughter, such limitations seem laughably quaint, but I wouldn’t mind returning to that style of photography. These days, it’s too easy to end up viewing half your holiday through your smartphone screen, self-imposing tunnel vision, and missing out on the third dimension.

Pictures Are Better in Your Head

So this summer, while I’ll still be taking my smartphone on holiday to send texts instead of postcards (sob! how I mourn for that endangered species!), I’ll be making a conscious effort not to spend so much time snapping holiday shots. After all, just as the pictures on the radio are better than on TV, the memories stored in your head will always be superior to your holiday snaps.

Wherever you’re spending your summer holiday this year, I wish you a wonderful three-dimensional time.


If this post has whetted your appetite for more on the theme of summer holidays, you might enjoy:

Cover of Young by Name
Collected columns from my first six years of writing for the Tetbury Advertiser

If you’d like to read more of my monthly “Young By Name” columns for the Tetbury Advertiser, you can buy them in a single volume as an ebook (£2.99) or in paperback (£6.99) – dare I suggest these short, light-hearted whimsical pieces might make good holiday reading? 

Order Young by Name from your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223030 or buy from Amazon here

(IMHO, it’s worth buying in paperback to get the beautiful watercolour cover image provided by my talented father!)



Posted in Family, Personal life, Travel

The Role of the Hill in Children’s Summer Holidays

Laura on top of a hill
Hurrah, I’m on holiday!

If you have ever travelled anywhere with a child, you will know that young eyes can spot a play park miles away. It’s strange how much their eyesight improves on holiday. If only they had the same visual acuity when searching for their shoes before school!

On the first day of our Scottish holiday, we are scooped up from Inverness Airport by my husband, who has already spent 10 days in the Highlands in our camper van. The sun is shining, so we head east for an afternoon at the beach, at the unpretentious seaside resort that is reputed to have been Charlie Chaplin’s favourite. Apparently he used to fly all the way from Hollywood to bask on the beach at Nairn. (Or so the Rough Guide to Scotland tells us.)

Ignoring the spectacular views across the Moray Firth that may have lured Chaplin all that way, my daughter Laura homes in on the large tiled paddling pool a stone’s throw from the seafront (but doesn’t throw any stones). It’s knee-deep on a child, and the local council kindly provides a lifeguard in the form of a kindly middle-aged lady in a cardigan. It’s not exactly Baywatch, but who cares?

To her parents’ delight, the pool is also a stone’s throw from an old-fashioned seafront cafe dispensing excellent cups of tea and ice-cream – bubble gum flavour for Laura, Irn Bru blend for her dad, while I favour the Scottish Tablet variety. Well, we are on holiday.

We savour our ice-creams while Laura cavorts in the paddling pool until closing time, the kindly lifeguard lady breaking it gently to the splashing children that they’ll have to get out so she can go home to have her tea. Baywatch, it ain’t. Then follows a short spell on the swings and slide, cleverly built into the side of slope between the pool and the beach, before we persuade Laura to head vanward for our own evening meal.

But the fun’s not over yet, as on the way back to the van she spots an even better source of fun: a good old-fashioned hill. Health and safety be blowed, you can’ t expect a small child on the first day of an exciting holiday to trip to pass by a hill without rolling down it a few dozen times.

Who needs theme parks anyway?

Laura on top of a hill
I came
Laura half way down the hill
I saw
Laura at the bottom of the hill
I conquered

I’m gradually catching up with posts written on my 2013 summer holiday, and more will follow soon, but in the meantime, if you liked this post, you might like to read the others that have made it onto the blog so far:

What Not to Discover on Your Summer Holidays

The Unusual Souvernirs of Camper Van Travel

Beachcombing in Ullapool – A Story Behind Every Stone

Posted in Family, Travel

Always Read the Label

A butcher shop specializing in horse meat in P...
Image via Wikipedia

Eating local food and drinking local wine or beer is as inseparable a part of the holiday experience for me as sending postcards, without which no holiday is complete.  When abroad, I steer a wide berth of any cafes offering an English style menu.

In my mission to eat local, I’m aided by a daughter with an unusual aversion to the staple foods of most eight year olds.  Not for her the ubiquitous chicken nuggets, fish fingers or burgers. But give her a crepe nd she’s happy.

I’m torn the other way by a husband who equates holidays – wherever they are – with Full English Breakfasts. I still remember the look of horror on his face when presented on a Greek beachside taverna with a supposed English fry-up garnished with cucumber.  “Cucumber?  For breakfast!?”

On our French odyssey, I’m particular keen to eat native because one of my holiday reading books is  Julia Child‘s autobiographical “My Life In France” – a highly enjoyable account of the American chef’s love affair with French cookery.

So we hit the patisserie to start each day.  Croissants for Laura, pains au raisins for the grown-ups, plus the occasional chausson de pommes for good measure.  For lunch, we combine the inevitable baguette with charcuterie, salad and fruit bought from local markets or local producer’s roadside stalls.

Evening meals are compromised by my desire to minimise the use of gas and water, both of which are in limited supply in our van.  Quick cook pasta, never used at home, makes a frequent appearance on any camper van trip, as does bread in all its forms.  Canned food and ready meals are a godsend.  And here in France I must make judicious use of the tin opener, with the proviso that any product used must be of French manufacture.  I don’t think Julia would approve .

Early on in the trip, we find ourselves parked in a layby just south of Montdidier in Picardy, enjoying an unbroken view of rolling farmland hills.  To reflect our position on the edge of French Flanders, a tin of that popular Flemish dish, Carbonnade Flamande is on the menu.  We once enjoyed this in a restaurant in Ypres.  A hearty stew, it’s more of a winter dish, but we’ve burnt off a lot of energy with an afternoon at Montdidier’s municipal pool and my appetite is keen.

With two diabetics to cater for, I’m an inveterate reader of labels.  From force of habit.  I’m scanning the ingredients of the tin when an unexpected animal catches my eye.  “Viande de cheval.”  Horsemeat.  My hunger is instantly abated.  I edge up to my husband, mouth silently “This is made of horse” and await his reaction.

“Mmm, great!” he replies, licking his lips.”I could eat a horse!”

My daughter – a newly converted vegetarian, due to her love of animals – must not find out.  I hope she won’t notice as she tucks into her omelette that I’m having only potatoes and haricots verts while Daddy lays into the stew.

At the next hypermarket stop, I’m more cautious.  I check out the fresh meat counter for a ready-prepared local dish that lacks an equestrian theme.  I opt for a comforting, beefy looking package that shows some kind of tidy-looking meatball with mushrooms in a sauce Madere.  They look smooth and shiny and there’s something vaguely familiar about them.  There’s a clear mention of boeuf as the creature of origin, and it’s only when I’m warming the pack later that I realise what these sleek knobs of lean meat are. They are rognons.  The boeuf has kindly provided its kidneys.  Oh well, I suppose it could have been very much worse.

For the rest of the holiday, I’m awfully careful to make sure I always read the label.  And I’m very glad that I know that the French word for tripe is tripe.